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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finns Still Pay Homage to Lenin

TAMPERE, Finland -- His monuments have been toppled all over the former communist world and he may even be evicted from his Red Square shrine in Moscow.

But the cult of Vladimir Lenin seems safe from the winds of history in Finland, home to the last normally operating Lenin museum in the world.

"After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were a few private efforts to close this place down, but they did not succeed," said museum director Aimo Minkkinen, an ex-communist who still has a soft spot for the Bolshevik Revolution.

"Capitalism cannot solve all the world's problems - even George Soros says that," he said.

The museum was founded in 1946 and joined a network of Lenin shrines in the Eastern Bloc and as far away as Cuba and Mongolia, overseen by the dour guardians of communist orthodoxy at the now-defunct Central Lenin Museum in Moscow.

That network vanished when the Soviet Union collapsed, although Paris also boasts a Lenin museum in a room he once occupied with his wife. Minkkinen insists it and another museum in St. Petersburg are open by appointment only.

The Finnish Lenin Museum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to the museum's hammer-and-sickle-decorated web site ( Admission is 20 Finnish markka ($3.59).

The museum occupies a sturdy turn-of-the-century workers' palace in the once "red" industrial town of Tampere in western Finland, where Lenin first met Jose f Stalin. Finland was then part of the Russian empire.

The Tampere museum, founded by pro-Soviet communists soon after the Soviet army defeated the Finns in the final stages of World War II, was a chip in a subtle game of deception between Helsinki and Moscow during the Cold War.

For reasons still debated by historians, Stalin spared Finland the fate of East European nations that became Soviet satellites after the war.

Some say the Soviet dictator was impressed with the Finns' fierce resistance in the Winter War of 1939-40. Others suggest this was an experiment in which the Soviets hoped to see a democratic state joining the Soviet bloc of its own will.

The Lenin Museum became a propaganda tool for Finnish and Soviet Stalinists in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but mainstream politicians used it as part of an officially promoted facade of good relations with the U.S.S.R.

"At first the museum was a project of the far left, but it became an honorable part of normal Finnish public life that was eagerly funded by the government," said Timo Vihavainen, an expert on Soviet history.

President Urho Kekkonen, who governed Finland from 1956 to 1981, made political capital out of the idea that Lenin had granted Finland its independence in 1917, effectively anchoring the country's sovereignty in the patron saint communism.

"The idea was to create a landmark and say that because the great Lenin had taken a positive attitude towards Finnish independence, no other Soviet leader could deviate from that line," Kekkonen's biographer Juhani Suomi said.

Over the decades, the museum was visited by Soviet leaders including Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, and other Soviet dignitaries such as the first man in space, Yury Gagarin. It was also a required stop for busloads of Soviet tourists who would have rather been shopping.

The museum's collection contains few pieces of high value because most items believed to have belonged to Lenin were loyally sent to the Central Lenin Museum.