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Russian Documentary Demonstrates That Lenin Lives On

A scene from the trailer to the 2013 documentary "Leninland" by Russian filmmaker Askold Kurov shows Lenin memorabilia together with religious artifacts.
A scene from the trailer to the 2013 documentary "Leninland" by Russian filmmaker Askold Kurov shows Lenin memorabilia together with religious artifacts.

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- "Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will always live."

It was one of the most deeply ingrained aphorisms of the Soviet period. And now, nearly a quarter century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it's proving to be prophetic.

That's the message of "Leninland," a 2013 documentary film by Askold Kurov that was recently screened as part of the Message To Man film festival in St. Petersburg's infamous Kresty remand prison.

"When I first found myself at the Gorki Leninskiye museum [the Lenin Museum located outside Moscow], I was shocked," Kurov told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "It turns out the Soviet period can be preserved. It is transmuted, deformed, but it is preserved. And now, after all that has happened in our country, you get the impression that that form of government, that form of society -- their basic structures have never gone away."

"Leninland," which was two years in the making, focuses on the massive, tomb-like Lenin Museum at the estate outside of Moscow where the Soviet founder spent his final days and died. The museum complex was built there in 1987, after the period of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika had already begun.

"The film is about the life of the museum at Gorki Leninskiye and the people who live and work there and who are trying to preserve the spirit of those times. It is as if time was stopped -- I made sort of a trip in a time machine," Kurov says. "And for me this to some extent explained the situation in contemporary Russia, because I think we are still in a transitional phase -- we haven't moved beyond the Soviet Union."

In the "Leninland" trailer, a museum researcher named Yevgenia describes her work in an office decorated with a shrine of Lenin memorabilia mixed in with Orthodox and Buddhist images. "It isn't about Lenin or defending a concrete person -- no matter how wonderful a genius he was -- and he really was unique, remarkable, Mahatma Lenin," she says. "It is about a future for people that they must acknowledge."

WATCH: The "Leninland" trailer:

A deputy director of the museum tells Kurov in the film that "the vibrations of Christ" are still felt on the territory of Lenin's estate -- ignoring the fact that this was the very place where Lenin, an atheist, dictated his instructions to the Politburo on the confiscation of church property and the mass persecution of priests.

In one scene, new recruits to Russia's OMON Interior Ministry special troops take their oath and receive their diplomas in front of the museum's massive Lenin statue as the national anthem plays.

There have been many signs of a resurgence of Soviet symbolism and nostalgia in Russia in recent weeks. On September 22, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree restoring the communist-era name of an elite police unit named in honor of Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Putin also recently restored the Soviet-era name of the TASS news agency.

Earlier this month, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and others set up a small replica of a statue of Dzerzhinsky in front of the old KGB Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow. During the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a crowd pulled down the original statue, which has since been restored and can be seen in a sculpture garden in the capital.

Written in Prague by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting from St. Petersburg by RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Viktor Rezunkov