Lenin's tomb draws curious, confused

September 05, 1991|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- On the other side of the Kremlin's big brick wall, deputies were debating whether to vote the government he founded out of existence, but out here in Red Square a steady stream of visitors was still coming to file in respectful silence past the earthly remains of Vladimir I. Lenin.

Some came out of respect; most out of curiosity.

He was the man, after all, who launched the communist experimentupon the world -- the experiment that came crashing down here with such apparent finality over the past two weeks.

Few are praising Lenin these days. Many would like to bury him.

That's why Maria Butnik came yesterday -- to catch a last glimpse of the leader and teacher of the workers of the world, before they put him underground for good.

"I felt compassion for him as a human being," the Ukrainian economist said, after emerging from the granite tomb where the embalmed Lenin resides in a glass sarcophagus.

"Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think his ideas have failed now -- completely failed. I think he would be better off buried, so he couldn't see what's happened.

"He should be buried," she added. "It's the Christian thing to do."

The great atheist, who died in 1924, is approached from the bottom of a flight of steps that leads down from the tomb's front door on Red Square. His surroundings consist of polished granite, with a jagged, inlaid design of red high up on the walls.

Four uniformed KGB guards stand at attention. Four others move visitors along, telling men to take off their hats, shushing conversation, guarding against the taking of photographs or other unseemly behavior.

Lenin lies, waxlike, in the center. Some skeptics have long suggested that he's not waxlike at all but wax, his remains having disintegrated. But, as one scornful Russian asked, what does it matter? His significance is as an icon, not as a corpse.

"I think he is not looking as himself," said Maria Izgagina, 57, a retired construction engineer from Byelorussia, who was fulfilling lifelong ambition by visiting his tomb.

"It is a very strange impression," she said. "He's dried up. It wasn't what I expected."

Ms. Izgagina stopped after she emerged from the mausoleum to talk alongside the tombstones of other Communist heroes who lie buried along the Kremlin wall. Josef V. Stalin, who once shared a spot with Lenin under glass, was nearby, boasting more flowers on his grave than any of the others.

"I don't know who decided to put Lenin here," she said. "Maybe Stalin invented this. He [Lenin] didn't want it, of course. He wanted to be buried in Leningrad, next to his mother.

"But I don't think they'll bury him. It is necessary to keep him here. After all, a revolution was committed under his guidance."

Galina Petrova brought her 5-year-old son to see Lenin. "I try to educate him not to forget history," she said. "It's hard to say what we think of Lenin -- now, especially. So many events fall on our heads at once. Well, he was a great one -- very clever."

Lenin seems to occupy a somewhat ill-defined place in the minds of many citizens. He was deified for so long that many would rather leave him out of the general pillorying of communism now going on.

"Maybe I'm mistaken," said Ms. Butnik, "but I think Lenin had nothing to do with what the party people have done since."

And yet, said Tatiana Koloskova, the party leaders wrapped themselves in Lenin's mantle so thoroughly that it is only natural to expect a reaction against him as well.

Ms. Koloskova is unhappy because she is deputy director of the Lenin Museum, which sits at the northeast corner of Red Square and which is being shut down Oct. 1 by Gavriil K. Popov, Moscow's reform mayor.

Ms. Koloskova is fully aware that in these times nothing can save the Lenin Museum with its 12,500 items on display. Its 90 guides and "scientists" and 150 technical workers were supported by a 1.5 million-ruble grant from the Communist Party, which is now suspended, its funds confiscated. She said the whole staff was working without pay.

Ms. Koloskova acknowledged that the museum should be something different. She had in mind an independent People's Museum of Lenin, which would show him in the context of his time. Still, she can't get over her anger at being shut down.

"This is a monument to a certain epoch," she said. "One can say it is a monument of a totalitarian epoch, but nevertheless it is a monument."

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