August 19, 2017 at 8:00 AM
There is a 7-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin in Seattle. It’s 16-feet tall, made of bronze and has resided in the city’s eclectic and very free-spirited Fremont neighborhood since 1995. Tourists flock to see it.
This week, protesters did too.
In a twist on the recent calls to remove Confederate monuments, Seattle’s Lenin statue has attracted renewed scrutiny this week after an impromptu protest by activists supporting President Trump, who has endured blistering criticism for insisting “both sides” — that is, the white nationalists who staged their rally in Charlottesville and the demonstrators who opposed them — share equal blame for the mayhem that was caused. The violence, and Trump’s argumentative response, has fomented division within communities across the country.
On Thursday, Mayor Ed Murray joined critics in seeking the removal of a monument that has long been a subject of curiosity and controversy, saying the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville should serve as incentive to remove all symbols of racism and hatred, “no matter what political affiliation may have been assigned to them.”
Murray, a Democrat, also has taken aim at a Confederate memorial in the city’s Lake View Cemetery. Both are privately owned.
“We should never forget our history,” he wrote in a prepared statement, “but we also should not idolize figures who have committed violent atrocities and sought to divide us based on who we are or where we came from.”
As Kurt Schlosser wrote this week for Geek Wire, the Lenin protest “seized on the chance to point out left-leaning Seattle’s supposed hypocrisy” while debates take place in other American cities over whether to remove memorials honoring figures celebrated by the Confederacy and those who condoned slavery.
Lenin led Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 before founding the country’s Communist Party. Countless suffered and died during the civil war that ensued, a fact highlighted by those who think the statue should come down. As one observer mused on Twitter, “He only killed a few million people. Why isn’t the left tearing down his statue?”
The sculpture’s path to Seattle has little to do with Lenin’s communist ideology, according to local accounts.
It was created in Slovakia by artist Emil Venkov between 1978 and 1988, when it was installed in the city of Poprad, not far from the Polish border. A year later, as the Soviet Union broke apart, the statue was taken down.
It was discovered in a junkyard by Lewis Carpenter, an American visiting from Washington state, who was said to be so enamored with its artistry that he leveraged his mortgage to finance the purchase and ship it home to Issaquah, 20 miles east of the Seattle. It was moved to Fremont after Carpenter’s death in 1994 (Venkov died in June) and now occupies a small parcel maintained by the local business community.
Carpenter’s family still owns the statue and, according to the Seattle Times, has been hoping to sell it for many years. The asking price is $250,000.
Here’s the thing about Fremont: It’s a little wacky — in the sense that it’s a diverse and unique community that’s known for celebrating the solstice with a parade of naked cyclists. A lot of hippies and artists live there, and they’ve dubbed Fremont “center of the universe.”
The statue is a fixture in their community, one they festoon with holiday lights each December. It’s “tangible proof,” Fremont residents explain on their website, “that art does outlive politics.”
“If art is supposed to make us feel, not just feel good, then this sculpture is a successful work of art. The challenge is to understand that this piece means different things to different people and to learn to listen to each other and respect different opinions. From an artist’s standpoint, all points of view are valid and important.”
So what happens next?
It’s possible Seattle’s city council will take up the issue in coming weeks, if only to debate whether the legislative body should be on record as having taken a stance, said one city staffer who spoke with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity.
“We’ve taken up less-consequential issues in the past,” the staffer said, noting that Seattle is a municipality keenly aware of its status as a “progressive bastion,” and of the example it sets for other municipalities in the state and across the country.
Ultimately, because these memorials reside on private property, both would need to be removed by their owners, voluntarily. So Murray, Seattle’s mayor, has few options other than voicing his opinion.
“At this point,” Murray’s office told The Post, “there are no next steps imminent.”