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Russia: 'Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, and Lenin Will Always Live'

  • John Varoli

St Petersburg, 7 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The cult of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had no equal in history. In Communist countries throughout the world, which, at one time, accounted for about half the world's population, Lenin was the chief god on the Soviet 'Olympus.' In the USSR, his picture was everywhere, hanging on walls at home and at work. In days leading up to 'Socialist' holidays, the cult of Lenin reached a hysterical frenzy. City streets became draped with huge red banners bearing Lenin's likeness. He was omnipresent in Soviet life, his words religiously used as advice and to exhort the Soviet people onward.

By the late 1980s, the leader of the world proletariat was exposed as the architect of history's most murderous ideology.

After the 1991 August putsch, and with the disunion of the USSR, leaders like Boris Yeltsin helped put an end to Lenin's god-like status. The country's extensive network of Lenin museums, found in each city, were closed or reorganized for different purposes.

Six years later, however, Lenin is far from down-and-out. As the Soviet-era saying goes, "Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, and Lenin Will Always Live."

The fact that St Petersburg was "Leningrad," from 1924 to 1991, is indicative of the intensity of the cult of Lenin here. This was the City of Lenin. The October Revolution, the founding of the Soviet state, were fashioned here. Few cities had, and still have, so many public reminders of the Leader of the World Revolution.

In 1991, when the world media beamed images of crowds tearing down statues to Lenin and Derzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, St Petersburg was not among them. In fact, such acts of anti-Sovietism were more common in republics not dominated by Russians.

In Leningrad, only three Lenin statues were taken down. According to Nadezhda Yefremivo, head of the City Museum of Sculpture, there are still more than 100 Lenin statues in the city today - many in prominent places. Derzhinsky also stands, not far from City Hall.

Still, according to a nationwide poll of 1,600 people conducted recently by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center, most Russians have a radically different opinion of the October Revolution and Lenin, than they did just seven years ago. Only 31 percent of Russians would support the Bolsheviks, if the October Revolution occured in their lifetime, down from 50 percent in a similar survey in 1990.

Nevertheless, the opinion that Lenin statues should remain standing seems to be shared by anyone you talk to in St Petersburg, or just about anywhere else in Russia. The most common reply heard is "Lenin was a part of our history" - for better or for worse - and, so it makes no sense to tear the statues down.

As Russia evolves into a civil, democratic society, experts say citizens will sort out for themselves the legacy of Lenin.

Perhaps, Ivan Uralov, St Petersburg's Chief Artist and a deputy director of the Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture summed it up best, when he told RFE/RL: "with the passage of time, after the older generation has passed, many statues will be dismantled, because by then Russian society will have a different set of values."