Magazine article Russian Life

How Many Lenins Does It Take?

Magazine article Russian Life

How Many Lenins Does It Take?

Article excerpt

Many years ago, art historians noted that, if we were to demolish all the monuments to tyrants, there would hardly be any public sculptures left to visit ...

Eighty years ago, on January 22, 1924, the first monument to Vladimir Lenin in the Soviet Union, by amateur sculptor Fyodor Kuznetsov, was unveiled in Noginsk (Moscow region). During the dedication ceremony, the secretary of the party cell announced that Lenin had just died: "We came here to unveil a monument to comrade Lenin during his lifetime, but now we must unveil a memorial. We have received terrible news. Our Ilyich died yesterday, on January 21, at 18:50, in Gorky." The huge crowd moaned.

After Lenin's death, thousands of memorials were created all over the Soviet Union. This, despite the fact that, soon after Lenin's death, his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya published an appeal in Pravda, requesting that Soviets spend their money on hospitals, schools and libraries, rather than on monuments to Ilyich. Her call fell on deaf ears. 'The waves of adoration for "The Great Leader" rose higher and higher, destroying everything in their path.

After World War II, the Lenin fetish was exported to the states of Eastern Europe which had been brought under Soviet hegemony.

Ironically, the sculptures of Lenin (whose likeness was often unrecognizable) were frequently set on bases once occupied by monuments to the tsars. The monuments were maintained by special citizen teams and top students often were charged with cleaning the monuments of dirt and bird droppings. This all changed in 1992. With the disintegration of the USSR, allotments for the upkeep of Lenin monuments dried tip. Plaster busts began to crumble; sometimes a leg or a hand fell off; there was even a report of a headless Lenin standing sadly in front of a village school.

Over the last decade, Lenin statues, once a common site in town and city squares, began to disappear. Some were stored in special museum warehouses; some were put on exhibit in the park outside Moscow's Central House of Artists, on Kryansky Val; some were exported to collectors of retro-Soviet paraphernalia abroad. It even became fashionable to display small figures or busts of "The Great Leader" in offices and dormitories.

Interestingly, there are few monuments depicting Lenin seated. One was in fire Moscow Kremlin (photo opposite, above). In 1994, it was transported to Gorky, where Lenin died. Another was in the Czech town of Pardubice, and another in the Kazan Kremlin. The plaster Lenin in Kazan once shared a bench with Josef Stalin, until the 22nd Congress of the CPSU turned the tide on Stalin's (but not Lenin's) Cult of Personality, and required removal of his statues (and his body from the mausoleum on Red Square). In Kazan, Stalin was replaced by four huge plaster books. In Simferopol (Ukraine) Lenin is also (still) seated on a bench which seems overly long. The reason is the same: the other "Leader" sat next to Lenin until 1961, when he was quietly and urgently removed during the night.

There used to be so many Lenins in so many Soviet towns that they gave rise to countless curious stories.

In Stavropol, the Lenin monument stood next to a marble column topped with an angel, which is blessing the town. Local wags have nicknamed the place, "The Square of the Angel and The Devil."

In Kirzhach (Moscow region), the Lenin monument was built near the walls of an ancient convent.

At the railway station in Simferopol (Ukraine), three monuments to Lenin were squeezed into a space no bigger than a football field. …

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