Friday, June 15, 2012

Lenin’s body

  • 15 Jun 2012
  • International Herald Tribune

Lenin’s body, and Soviet ghosts

Culture minister wants it buried and streets named for the slain czar’s family

Russia’s new culture minister had already riled liberals who viewed him as the odd monarchist who is also somehow an apologist for Stalin.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSEMembers and supporters of the Russian Communist Party marching in April in Moscow to pay their respects at Lenin’s mausoleum, where his embalmed body lies, below.
The minister, Vladimir Medinsky, a best-selling author, then decided to aggravate the Communists, too, when he called for burying Lenin’s preserved corpse and renaming streets after the murdered czar’s family.

‘‘Maybe, indeed, many things in our life would symbolically change for the better after this,’’ Mr. Medinsky said in a recent radio appearance, alluding to efforts to put the Soviet past behind today’s Russia.

Mr. Medinsky, appointed as minister last month, reopened the long, simmering debate about Lenin’s corpse and street names as tensions mounted between the opposition and the government over Moscow’s latest anti-government rally on Tuesday. His critics said he was aiming to deflect criticism of his appointment, and distract anti-government protesters, though if that was his motivation, it failed. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets to demonstrate against his patron, President Vladimir V. Putin — and his critics still say he is unfit.

Mr. Medinsky first remarked on the street names at an exhibition last week, then elaborated on Ekho Moskvy radio, saying that Lenin’s preserved corpse should be taken out of its Red Square mausoleum and buried with full military honors. The mausoleum, where Lenin has been in a glass coffin since 1924 and treated as a virtual shrine in Soviet times, should become a museum ‘‘with expensive tickets,’’ Mr. Medinsky said.

If that was not enough to raise the ire of those nostalgic for the Soviet past, he also called for streets to be named after Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and has been canonized as a martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church. He also said that a busy Moscow Metro station named after Pyotr Voikov, who participated in the killing of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918, must be renamed.

Mr. Medinsky, 41, has been a government bureaucrat since the 1990s and closely affiliated with the pro-Putin United Russia party for the past decade. He is co-founder of an organization that lobbies for the elimination of Soviet place names, and has said that Russia needs a ‘‘real czar.’’ He was chosen by Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. colonel, who has made repeated efforts to unite the Communists and czarists in Russia.

Last week, on Ekho Moskvy, Mr. Medinsky said he was not insisting on the immediate renaming after the Romanovs, but on an effort to educate the population about the ‘‘complicated’’ histories behind certain names. Despite awave of renaming in the 1990s, main thoroughfares in Russia are still named, for example, Prospekt Lenina. There are many other locations named after Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police.

‘‘In each one and in Dzerzhinsky as well, it’s possible to find many good points in his biography,’’ he said. ‘‘These were all very complicated people. It was a complicated era. And we should probably be very careful touching it.’’

Konstantin Eggert, a commentator for the radio station Kommersant-fm, said that while he supported eliminating Soviet place names, he suspected that Mr. Medinsky and the Kremlin were trying to manipulate opinion, diverting liberals’ attention from grievances with the government to something they support.

‘‘The government thinks that by raising a topic popular with the classic Russian Westernizing liberal, it can split the opposition,’’ he said in an interview. ‘‘It would have possibly worked’’ even last winter, he added. ‘‘But I don’t think it will today, because this will not be seen as sincere.’’

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