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Russians Again Wonder, What to Do With Lenin?


For almost 80 years, the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin has laid in an elaborate mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow. In the Soviet era, crowds would wait hours on end for a chance to glimpse the remains of the Communist leader who changed the course of history during the Russian Revolution. But times have changed, and now Russians are debating whether to leave the body in place, or not.

The lengthy queues of people waiting anxiously to see Lenin may be long gone.

But, three days a week, it is still possible to walk down into the red and black stone mausoleum that was once revered as a shrine to Russia's revolutionary leader.

Lenin lies in a black suit inside a glass coffin, his face lit up in a way that makes him look almost like a wax figure.

After walking around the coffin, visitors head back outside to see the graves of other Soviet leaders, including dictator Josef Stalin.

Vladimir Lenin died in 1924. Technicians used a method of embalming that was a state secret.

The cult of personality built up around him silenced any question of whether his remains should be preserved in this way.

However, since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, questions have lingered over his continued presence in the heart of Moscow.

Recently officials again suggested it is time for the long-dead leader's remains to be buried elsewhere. Polls suggest that the debate splits the country right down the middle. And, a brief survey of visitors to Lenin's mausoleum seems to reflect that.

Sergei and Olga are a married couple from Russia's Far Eastern region, on a visit to Moscow. Sergei says Lenin should be left where he is, to remind future Russians of their history.

But Sergei's wife Olga begs to differ. She says it is not a Christian way of treating a person after their death.

Olga's comment about religion reflects the concerns of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has grown increasingly influential since the end of the official atheism of Soviet times.

Church leaders have long suggested that keeping an embalmed body on public view conflicts with Christian tradition.

Many bolster the argument, saying that Lenin left a will stating his desire to be buried next to the grave of his mother in Russia's second city, Saint Petersburg.

However 83-year-old Olga Ulyanova says this is untrue. And, she speaks with some authority. Ms. Ulyanova is Lenin's niece - his closest living relative.

She says that at 53 Lenin was too young to have left a will and too caught up with affairs of state to think about such a thing. She adds he should be left where he is.

Ms. Ulyanova's comments concur with those of Russia's Communist Party, which strongly opposes moving Lenin's remains.

When the issue first arose, in the early 1990s, huge marches were held as the party denounced any talk of taking Lenin away.

One of Russia's most-senior Orthodox Church leaders is Metropolitan Kirill, head of public relations for the Moscow Patriarchy. The metropolitan takes a cautious approach and proposes that a referendum be held to decide the issue.

"From a religious point of view, there is only one way to consider his question," he said. "He should be buried."

But Mr. Kirill adds that any decision must carefully thought out, to avoid inflaming political passions. He says that Russian society is already strained by conflict and actions must instead contribute to a reconciliation among people.

Ivan Klimov is a sociologist with the Public Opinion Foundation in Moscow. He says such a sensitive issue must be handled carefully.

He says a meaningful discussion should be held on a socio-cultural level, not on the basis of politics.

Mr. Klimov says opinion polls taken by his agency find that 56 percent of Russians favor burying Lenin, but a similar percentage also feel he had "done more good for Russia than bad."

Any thorough debate about Russia's Soviet past is likely to be difficult, making it likely there may be no resolution about Lenin's future, anytime soon.

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