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Lenin Slept Here, And Was Expelled -- Kazan 'Red Tour' Marketed To Chinese

  • Ron Synovitz

Russian tourism officials are hopeful that the Lenin museum in Kazan will prove a big hit with Chinese visitors. (file photo)

Russian tourism officials are hopeful that the Lenin museum in Kazan will prove a big hit with Chinese visitors. (file photo)

Before Russia's heightened tensions with the West over Ukraine, the Russian republic of Tatarstan had been marketing itself as a tourist destination where "East meets West" and "all worlds come together as one."

Now, Russian state tourism officials are looking to the east -- marketing Kazan to the Chinese as part of a "red tour" with visits to the house where Vladimir Lenin briefly lived and the university where he was expelled.

In 1887, before he adopted the last name Lenin, 17-year-old Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov enrolled in the faculty of law at what was then called Kazan Imperial University.

But within three months, he was expelled for what was deemed to be a revolutionary activity – taking part in an illegal student protest.

The "red tour" takes visitors to the site where the anti-Tsarist protest was joined by the future founder of the Russian Communist Party, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the architect and first head of the Soviet state.

The tour also includes a visit to the house where the young Lenin formed his political ideas while living with his widowed mother and his younger brother Dmitry.

Lenin lived there for nine months after he was expelled, meeting older exiled radicals and reading political literature like Karl Marx's Das Kapital.

The second floor of the house in Kazan's historical city center was Lenin's home when he declared himself a Marxist in January 1889.

The building, which is typical of the region's wooden urban estates from the late 19th century, has served as a Lenin museum since 1937.

Targeted For Future Growth

After being closed for four years for restoration work, the museum reopened on May 22 with a ceremony attended by Tatarstan's President Rustam Minnikhanov and the chairman the Russian Communist Party's Central Committee, Gennady Zyuganov.

Russia's Deputy Culture Minister Alla Manilova told the gathering that the "red tour" package being offered to Chinese tourists also includes visits to St. Petersburg, where Lenin led the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and the city of Ulyanovsk, which was known as Simbirsk when Lenin was born there in 1870.

Sergei Ivanov, the chairman of Tatarstan's State Committee on Tourism, says tourists from China are the most promising segment of the market for Kazan and should be targeted for future growth.

Ivanov notes that more tourists from China visited Russia in 2014 than from any other country.
But he says most of them went to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and his goal is to get Kazan on the list of top destinations for Chinese tourists.

In 2014, Ivanov's committee traveled to Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai to present the tourism potential of Tatarstan to China's state-run tour operators.

More than 30 Chinese tour operators visited Kazan in 2014 to build contacts in Tatarstan's tourism market, including China's largest tour operator -- China International Travel Service.

In October 2014, Tatarstan President Minnikhanov met in Kazan with the visiting head of the Chinese tourism company.

That meeting led to a formal cooperation agreement between Tatarstan and China International Travel Service, which organizes tours for more than 3 million people each year.

Under the agreement, the first organized Chinese tour group -- about 30 members of the National People's Congress -- is due to visit Kazan in June for the "red tour."

The Chinese firms says it also has five other groups, each with up to 40 tourists, scheduled to visit Kazan as part of the tour later in 2015.

Ethnic Tourism

To be sure, visits by 250 Chinese tourists during 2015 is insignificant compared to the number of tourists that Tatarstan's government claims each year.

Minnikhanov says 1.7 million tourists visited Tatarstan in 2013, when Kazan hosted the International University Sports Federation's Summer Universiade.

But the red-tour package is part of a tourism development program that Minnikhanov has approved for the next five years.

Bolstering the deal by including St. Petersburg on the itinerary appears to be necessary to make Kazan attractive to a larger numbers of tourists from Beijing.

Kazan tour operators say the easiest ways for Chinese tourists to visit their city is by plane or train.

But during the summer of 2015, a round trip Beijing-Kazan airline ticket costs approximately $1,000 for an individual traveler.

Travel by railway using the Trans-Siberian Express costs about the same, and there is no stop in Kazan. After about 130 hours of railroad travel, tourists from Beijing would have to stop at Nizhniy Novgorod and transfer to a bus or another train for up to six more hours travel.

Kazan residents who support ethnic tourism -- saying Tatar traditions are the real selling point to attract tourists to their city -- are skeptical about the idea of a "red tour."

Fanzilya Jauharova, the head of Kazan's "Traditional Tatar Culture Research Center," told RFE/RL that there is nothing bad about a new idea.

But she questions what perspectives state-employed tour guides in Russia will offer about Lenin to tourists in a state-organized tour group from China.

Written by Ron Synovitz with reporting by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service correspondent Alsu Kurmasheva.