Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Parts of the Past Are Buried, But Lenin Isn't

Nikita Muchnik, a student who sells cell phones near the Kremlin, doesn't much care whether the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin stays in its airtight glass coffin in Red Square or is banished from its place of honor. In his mind, the Soviet founder has already sunk to the level of a cynically exploited tourist attraction, a kind of real-life Madame Tussaud wax figure.

"I don't think it's a particularly good thing that he's lying where he is, and I don't find it particularly pleasant to walk past there," said Muchnik, 18. "But people who were affected by communism feel strongly about it. ... He's good for tourists. It's good for making money, but it strikes me as a bit immoral."

Yet Lenin, who died more than eight decades ago, is still a potent symbol for older Russians. Some associate him with equality, social benefits and job security. To others, he symbolizes repression, terror and dictatorship. After all, Lenin's tomb, upon which generations of Communist leaders stood to review military parades, was a trademark of the Soviet era.

Now a fresh wave of pressure is building for Russia to make a decisive psychological break with its past by burying the revolutionary who so dramatically influenced the 20th century. But authorities know it isn't that easy to put Lenin six feet under.

State Duma Deputy Andrei Isayev, along with many others who want the body and mausoleum gone from the square, says the continued honor paid to Lenin is undercutting the country's efforts to modernize and democratize. "I belong to the group that believes the damage done by Lenin to our country and our society is immeasurably greater than any good he may have done," he said. "He is completely out of sync with the reality of today's Russia."

Isayev predicted that in time Lenin would be removed from the square.

Polls show that Russians are gradually moving toward the idea that Lenin should be buried. A survey late last year by state-controlled VTsIOM found that 52 percent of respondents favored burying Lenin, up from 43 percent in 1999, whereas 22 percent said he should stay in the mausoleum.

Vladimir Panko, a security guard, counts himself among that minority. He recently joined the line of visitors that winds past somber guards in a quasi-religious atmosphere, down flights of stairs to the underground tomb where Lenin presides in spotlighted splendor. The guards hush up anyone who speaks and hurry along all who linger more than a few seconds to gaze at the spectacle.

"In the past, schools used to teach us to think Lenin's way. There were the ideals of socialism. Now, there are no ideals like that. These days, people just think about earning money," said Panko, 41. "People sense the direction the authorities are going in, but I don't think they'll manage to bury him in the near future.

"People are against it, especially in the provinces. It's our history. I believe he should be left there."

Displayed formally in a suit and tie, the body is so perfect and yet unreal that some visitors suspect it really is a wax figure, but those involved in its upkeep say there is nothing artificial about it. The body has been preserved using a secret chemical solution and sophisticated equipment to control temperature and humidity inside the sealed coffin, said Yury Denisov-Nikolsky, deputy director of the Vilar Scientific Research Center, the organization in charge of the body.

Contrary to visitors' impressions, cosmetics are not used, he said. "Using fiber-optics, several dozen beams of light are projected onto Lenin's body," he explained. "These lights have filters that create the illusion of a particular color of the skin. So it's with the help of these technological methods that we are able to achieve a skin color that more or less resembles that of a human being."

Those battling on both sides of the burial debate accept the body as real. The latest to jump into the fray is the Institute of Russian History, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which issued a statement last month condemning Lenin and his successor, Josef Stalin, saying they bore the "main personal responsibility" for decades of communist repression and terror.

Russia can progress on the path of democratic development, it said, only by rejecting communist icons Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin and Stalin, whom it described as symbols of "Red Terror and the export of socialist revolutions." The history institute called for the mausoleum to be torn down and for Lenin's body to be given to the Communist Party to do with it as it pleases.

"If a mausoleum with Hitler's remains existed in Berlin, wouldn't that intimidate other countries and peoples? Or would it be considered acceptable?" said Vladimir Lavrov, the acting director of the institute.

Politicians hoping to burnish Russia's democratic credentials have tried to get Lenin's body out of the square since 1989, when Yury Karyakin, a former dissident elected to a new Soviet parliament, shocked his colleagues by proposing such action.

The current wave of efforts to get Lenin out of the square began in September, when Georgy Poltavchenko, a senior aide to Putin, called for the body to be buried and for the remains of all those interred along the Kremlin wall to be moved.

"Many people have wreaked havoc in our country, but only a few of them were held accountable for these troubles when they were alive," he said. "It seems to me that it is not very fair that those who initiated these troubles are located by the Kremlin, at the very center of the state."