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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Lenin's Spirit Is Entombed

ULYANOVSK, Central Russia - If you miss Lenin, come to Ulyanovsk.


That is not the tourist slogan of the revolutionary leader's birthplace, but it could well be. While Moscow has closed down its Lenin Museum and made plans to bury the Bolshevik statesman's body, this Volga River town 800 kilometers to the east continues to pay tribute to its native son with several museums and countless honorary plaques.


"Visitors both from the Soviet Union and abroad, eager to learn more about the early years of the man who was the greatest revolutionary come in a never-ending flow", one guide still for sale here gushes.


"The Soviet people revere the city and the memorial sites connected with Lenin", another book says.


True, the days of breathless enthusiasm for Leninalia have passed even here in the town where Ilya and Maria Ulyanov raised young Vladimir.


About 100, 000 tourists have visited the main Lenin Museum this year, a tenth of the flow a few years back, according to museum director Valery Perfilov. Yet that figure is a slight improvement over 1992, the worst slump in the museum's history.


"Last year was our most difficult", said Perfilov, whose large square museum was constructed in 1970 to mark the centenary of Lenin's birth. "Now we are reshaping our role and have cut back on ideological functions".


Many of the exhibitions, however, are still proud examples of Communist ideology, including a large red map that lights up to show the post-revolution Communist advances across Russia. Some things have changed, though, like historic photographs with the images of formerly out-of-favor politicians like Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin carefully restored.


Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is the house of Lenin's birth located in the museum courtyard. There, the Ulyanov family enjoyed a comfortable abode that included a grand piano. Recent additions show that the Ulyanov family had icons in the corner of their bedroom, an interior detail forgotten during the Soviet era.


Winter is a lonely time in the house, however, as very few visit. The tone guard turns on the lights as the rare cold-weather traveler arrives.


Some local voices have suggested that moving Lenin's embalmed body to Ulyanovsk would pump up local tourist interest, an idea Perfilov opposes.


"I don't want Lenin to be actively used as a tourist attraction", said Perfilov, a self-described former believer in communism.


Even if it is doubtful that a mummified Lenin will be displayed here, the town stubbornly clings to its name (after the Ulyanov family), and there are no plans to close down the museums.


"Even the democrats feel this should be preserved", Perfilov said.


Well, not quite. At least one big-name politician visiting town last week told a local audience that as communism itself, the monuments to Lenin will gradually fade away.


"There will not be a Lenin Museum here and Lenin statues", said Pyotr Aven, the former foreign trade minister. "If not today, they'll be gone in 10 years".


Some in the crowd murmured in disapproval.


Perfilov's strategy to keep the Lenin Museum alive is one that his Moscow colleagues also tried, yet ultimately without success. He is calling the museum a "Historical Cultural Center" dedicated to objective study of Lenin's legacy.


"My task is to save something related to history. It's not that I'm some orthodox Leninist", he said.


Just in case the historical-interest angle fails, the building is also staging concerts and ideologically neutral art exhibits, and is educating students as part of a technical university in a different area of the building.