A debate over whether to bury Vladimir Lenin, whose embalmed body remains on display on Red Square, has risen again and even led to a stabbing ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.
The ruling party has tried to play down Tuesday’s centennial as the antithesis of Vladimir Putin’s tenets of stability and traditional values.
But in a newspaper interview on Wednesday calling for the anniversary to be observed without “confrontation”, Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, was asked about removing Lenin from his glass sarcophagus in the mausoleum next to the Kremlin.
She suggested a referendum could decide the long-standing issue.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Russia’s Chechnya republic and an outspoken Muslim believer, responded on social media that Mr Putin should decide, adding that it was “not right that a coffin with a dead person is standing in the heart of Russia”.
Other politicians soon chimed in. Natalya Poklonskaya, an MP with the ruling United Russia party and the leader of a crusade against a recent film about Tsar Nicholas II’s affair with a ballerina, said the continuing display of the communist’s cadaver was “inhumane”.
Ksenia Sobchak, a liberal socialite and journalist who has announced she will run in March’s presidential election, promised to bury him if she won.
But a final farewell to the revolutionary, who was revered as the embodiment of Soviet ideology even after Joseph Stalin’s personality cult was denounced and abandoned, would anger the Communist Party, the largest minority in parliament.
Party boss Gennady Zyuganov, who laid flowers at the mausoleum with an international delegation on Sunday, argued that since Lenin’s late niece had supported his display, burying him would in fact be “unnatural and blasphemous”.
It would also mean the closure of the “Lenin lab,” the purpose-built Moscow institute responsible for preserving him which has also embalmed other leaders like Ho Chi Minh and Kim Jong-il.
Although Lenin’s pale head and hands are all that’s visible beneath his dark suit, the lab’s secretive group of specialists reportedly continue to work full-time preserving every aspect of his corpse, from the flexibility of his knees to the hair attachment on his chest.
A state tender revealed that some £140,000 was spent on maintaining Lenin in 2016.
Given the array of dyes and mixtures applied, what’s on display is “closer to a wholly constructed representation of Lenin’s dead body than to the original, once living man,” according to Alexei Yurchak, a University of California Berkeley professor who is writing a book about his preservation.