21 January 2011

Russian Media Storm over Lenin Mausoleum

Debates over what to do with Lenin's corpse were renewed this week in the lead-up to the anniversary of Lenin's death (on 21 January), after the launching of a United Russia campaign to bury Lenin and transform his mausoleum into a museum.

The campaign was launched by popular historian and Gosduma United Russia deputy Vladimir Medinskii, who this week has variously called Lenin's 'presence as a central figure in the necropol at the heart of our country... an absolute absurdity', 'a perversion', 'some kind of satanism', and 'some kind of absurd, pagan-necrophiliac mission on Red Square' (see reports by Interfax and gazeta.ru.

This imagery, reflecting the apocalyptic atmosphere of contemporary Russia's memoryscape, is mirrored in the rhetoric used in liberal commentary on the campaign, such as liberal politicians Leonid Gozman (Right Cause), who reportedly called communism an 'emanation of death' (see SPS website) and Boris Nemtsov (Solidarity) who described the campaign as an attempt by United Russia 'to create a mythical, half-dead opponent for itself' (see zagolovki.ru). Writer and activist Oleg Kozyrev says that the real problem is the mummification of Russian political life, and that the whole country has in fact been transformed into a giant political cemetery (see his blog), while gallery owner and art critic Marat Gel'man has suggested replacing the mausoleum sign 'LENIN' with 'MUMMY' (or 'MUSEUM') (see his blog).

The related debates are uncannily reminiscent of the previous Gorbachev-era revolution in historical memory. Thus, for example, commentary on the website of the United Russia youth movement 'Molodaia gvardiia', declares that de-Stalinisation is not enough, and must be extended to Lenin too, whose image, the website claims, is still 'untouchable' and about whose crimes society knows almost nothing (though this, the website announces, will change now that the archives are about to be opened). Likewise, Mikhail Fedotov, the chief presidential advisor on human rights appointed in autumn this year, who has spearheaded the campaign for 'de-Stalinisation of public consciousness', has commented that the time has now finally come to lift what he calls 'the taboo' on discussing the issue of Lenin's body.

While government officials attempted to put a stop to the wave of media speculations about the fate of Lenin's body by issuing a statement to the effect that no decision would be taken on this issue in the near future (on the morning of 21 January; see Rosbalt), the United Russia fraction has resolved to put the issue to the vote (on 21 January), with a view to submitting a proposal to parliament on the issue.

It seems likely that the mausoleum itself may end up being transformed into a memorial complex, a proposal which has been backed by the Memorial Society, and Yabloko, as well as Fedotov (see Nezavisimaia gazeta).

Image source: RIA Novosti

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