Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lenin Lives! Look-Alike Earns Cash, Enmity




As Communist faithful paid their respects to Vladimir Lenin on the 75th anniversary of his death by laying flowers on his tomb Thursday, it was business - profitable, capitalist business - as usual for the Soviet founder's live look-alike.


Wearing the revolutionary leader's trademark polka-dot tie and black cap, a red bow pinned to his lapel, Anatoly Koklenkov was strolling the outskirts of Red Square, as he often does, making 50 rubles (about $2) a shot for people to have their picture taken with him.


"My profile resembles Lenin's a lot better, so why don't you take your picture like this," he said sticking out his immaculate pointed beard, as a father took a photograph ofhis son with the Lenin impersonator.


Koklenkov, 53, said his likeness to the genius of the Russian Revolution first revealed itself when he grew out a beard about 10 years ago.


"At first, my friend and I just got a kick out of it. Then, I adjusted my image a bit and people started oohing and aahing on the tram when I would get on," he said as he shook hands with passers-by.


"Now, it's my profession. I have made $100,000 in four years as a Lenin. I bought two apartments, furnished them and moved my family from Tashkent."


When business was good - and it was better before the crisis - Koklenkov tried to give a cut of his profits to a fringe communist party.


"At first they took some, but then [radical communist Viktor] Anpilov came in and said it went against the grain of the ideology," he said.


Koklenkov said he still likes the idea of sharing his fortune with some of Lenin's spiritual children and grandchildren. And he sometimes shows up at communist functions, free of charge, just as a party booster.


"I even made it to a national meeting of Communist Youth once," he said. "But most of the time, the communists cannot forgive me for the fact that I am making money."


As a new official group of flower-laying communists made its way toward Red Square on Thursday afternoon, police asked the Lenin impersonator to move into nearby side streets.


"We don't want any trouble," said a police lieutenant who gave his name only as Sergei.


Earlier in the day, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov led a group of several dozen to Red Square to lay flowers at the mausoleum. Lenin died Jan. 21, 1924, after a long illness, and his body was embalmed despite the pleas of his wife, who asked that he be buried.


"Lenin is more important today then ever," said Zyuganov, who lost to President Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential elections and is still considered likely to be a strong candidate in the 2000 campaign.


The party called on its followers to "stop the destruction of the economy, send all traitors and political adventurists to the dump of history and revive the unified socialist Motherland."


Members of Zyuganov's party, as well as more radical communists, paid their respects at Lenin's tomb Thursday but did not hold demonstrations. Only a few faithful stood in front of the mausoleum all day long to honor the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution.


"I first saw him as a 9-year-old boy," said German Nikitich, 73, who only gave his name and his patronymic. Now he comes to see Lenin several times a year, including on his birthday and the anniversary of his death.


"He is not the same anymore," German Nikitich said. His hands, wrinkled and reddened by the cold wind sweeping Red Square, trembled as he gazed over Lenin's tomb. "He sort of got skinny. He shrank over time."


Thursday, German Nikitich did not get a chance to see Lenin's body stretched in a glass coffin in the bowels of the tomb: As usual, the tomb was locked up at 1 p.m. In the Soviet times, those gathered at Red Square remembered, the mausoleum was kept open later on special occasions and holidays.


Just in time for the 75th anniversary of Lenin's death, Russian newspapers carried reports that his tomb would be closed for two months, starting Feb. 2, while scientists perform the regular work needed to preserve the embalmed body.


Public debate about burying Lenin's remains surfaces around every major anniversary related to this life and struggles. Yeltsin regularly states that the revolutionary's body should be removed from the tomb and buried, a suggestion that runs into furious protests from the communists.


The Russian Orthodox Church has put forward the position that although mummification of human remains is against Russian tradition and offends many believers, neither the Church nor the government should take any drastic steps toward reburying Lenin because it could only further split society.


For German Nikitich, as well as for most Communists and older Russians, burying the remains of the Bolshevik leader has never been a question.


"We need to keep him the way our forefathers put him there. It's relics of our state. It's our memory," German Nikitich said.