Calls for Lenin’s body to finally be buried ahead of 100th anniversary of Bolshevik revolution

Vladimir Lenin’s body lies in its glass sarcophagus on Red Square. – AFP

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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”. 

Lenin’s mausoleum is located next to the Kremlin walls in downtown Moscow. Credit: Vladimir Smirnov/TASS via Getty Images

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”. 

Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, reignited the debate over Lenin this week. Credit: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

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.

A Communist Party supporter carries a portrait of Lenin during a memorial ceremony on Red Square in 2016. Credit: Kirril Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Nonetheless, the body remains an important symbol and the object of passionate debate.

On Thursday last week, two drinking buddies in a town in southwestern Russia got into such a furious argument about whether to bury Lenin that one stabbed the other with a kitchen knife, local media reported. 

A survey by VTsIOM, a state-owned pollster, earlier this year found that 63 percent of Russians favoured burying Lenin, but only a third thought it should be done in the near future.  

Mr Putin, who has tended to dodge the issue since he came to power nearly two decades ago, has avoided entering the latest debate about what to do with Lenin.

The presidential administration said on Thursday it was “not a topic on the Kremlin agenda”, and Moscow authorities have refused to allow an opposition rally next week demanding the corpse’s removal.

Proposed legislation to bury Lenin stalled in April after the government spoke out against it. A Russian Orthodox Church spokesman said while he should have been buried in 1991, now was not the time to “reopen old wounds”.

A museum near Odessa has collected Lenin monuments dismantled under Ukraine’s decommunisation law. Credit: Sergei Supinsky/AFP Photo/Getty Images

According to analyst Masha Lipman, Mr Putin is unlikely to take a stance on the issue before the election, especially given the mass dismantling of Lenin statues by the pro-Western government in Ukraine. 

“It’s impossible to say Lenin is bad and we don’t want the glorification of this cult that goes back to the Soviet days, because that’s what the Ukrainians are doing,” she said.

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