Lenin’s tomb should stay in Red Square, Putin says


Founder of the Soviet Union Vladimir Ilyich Lenin lays embalmed in his granite tomb on Moscow's Red Square on April 16, 1997. (SERGEI KARPUKHIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body has been on display in Red Square since 1924. Now another influential Vladi­mir has made clear that Lenin’s tomb isn’t going anywhere else.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently found time in his busy schedule — which lately has included banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children and giving Russian citizenship to French actor Gerard Depardieu — to compare Lenin’s polished granite mausoleum to the relics of saints on display in Orthodox monasteries.

“The communists continued the tradition,” Putin said of Lenin’s preservation, “and did it competently, in accordance with the demands of those times.”

“We must return to our historic roots,” he said, with “traditional values.”

The remarks, made last month during an interview with several prominent supporters, came alongside other proposals to revive symbolic elements of the old Soviet system, including bringing back a workers’ medal awarded to particularly industrious laborers. Lenin has been on display in a glass coffin since his death 89 years ago, but his tenancy in Red Square has been questioned since the arrival of the reformist political movement called perestroika in the mid-1980s.

Russia's president cracks down on dissent.

Analysts say the turn toward Soviet symbolism is intended to shore up support from those who felt neglected by several years of market-oriented economic reforms under President Dmitri Medvedev, who handed the office back to Putin in the spring.

For Putin “the priority of a strong state over the interests of individuals is important,” said Dmitri Oreshkin, a political commentator.

Among Putin’s other recent steps to solidify control over Russia’s political system have been a sharp crackdown on opposition leaders, including steep fines for unauthorized protests and the prosecution of officials for alleged corruption, in cases that opponents say are politically motivated.

Some opposition activists have even been sent to frigid prisons in Siberia — another holdover from the Soviet era.

Like the glowing red stars atop buildings in the Kremlin, Lenin’s tomb is a relic that has held on more than 20 years after the fall of communism. In recent months, Lenin’s tomb has been closed to visitors as renovations are made to its exterior walls.

Lenin’s wishes were that he be buried alongside his mother in St. Petersburg (re-christened Leningrad in Soviet times), not embalmed with a secretive technique that preserved his now-waxy body through decades of turmoil in Russia’s capital.

A growing number of Russians (including Putin’s culture minister, Vladi­mir Medinsky) have said the tomb should be done away with. A 2011 poll by the Levada Center, an independent polling institute, showed 40 percent of Russians in favor of burying Lenin.

But Russia’s still-active Communist Party says that keeping Lenin in the Red Square is only natural.

Moving him would be a “barbaric act,” said Dmitri Novikov, the party’s ideologist.

“We Communists can say that this is our victory,” he said. “Despite anti-Soviet hysterics, in many ways the position and the opinion of society is that we should go back to Soviet heritage and restore values.”

Under current plans, the tomb — maintained by Russia’s state security service — will be reopened in April, according to a spokeswoman, perhaps by April 22, Lenin’s birthday, and most certainly by May 1, International Workers’ Day.

After the reopening, visitors will again be able to wait in line to file past the pale, waxen body that still somewhat resembles the iconic goateed revolutionary. Guards maintain strict silence. Legions of Russians once had to make a pilgrimage to the tomb as part of required school trips, but now Lenin’s body is mostly visited by curious tourists and nostalgic pensioners.

Michael Birnbaum is The Post’s Moscow bureau chief. He previously served as the Berlin correspondent and an education reporter.
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