by Joseph Hammond (Special for HT from Moscow)
HAVANA TIMES — This summer, when Cuban President Raul Castro visited Moscow, during his official visit he added one small request of his Russian hosts: a sightseeing excursion to visit Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Raul Castro is one of the last living holders of Soviet medals named after the former communist revolutionary. Castro holds both the Order of Lenin and a Jubilee Medal commemorating the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth.
Today, those interested in viewing the embalmed remains of Vladimir Lenin are quickly turned away. The mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union and the inspiration for communists around the world, is closed for renovations until the summer of 2013.
However, an increasing number of Russians hope the tomb will never be reopened and that the remains of Lenin will be buried after more than 88 years on display.
This year Putin’s minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, expressed his view that Lenin’s body should finally be removed from Red Square. Polls show than a slight majority of Russians — particularly those of the younger generation — believe Lenin’s body should be removed from Red Square.
Lenin died at the age of 58 after leading the Bolsheviks to power in the 1917 Russian Revolution. Following his death in 1924, he was embalmed and placed on display in Red Square. The mausoleum has been witness to some of the more turbulent episodes of Russian history.
During the Nazi invasion of Russia during World War II (or “the Grand Patriotic War,” as Russian’s call it), Lenin’s body was secretly shipped to Siberia for the duration of the conflict.
After 1945, Lenin returned to Red Square, but Soviet dissidents attacked the site on four occasions in attempts to deface his remains. Two of these attacks involved explosive devices, including the final known attack in 1973, when a suicide bomber killed himself and two bystanders.
Russian experts mastered the long-term embalming technique that was later used by other global communist elites, including Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il-sung.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, initially called for the removal of Lenin’s tomb from Red Square. However, facing a tough election campaign against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Yeltsin changed his stance.
The preservation of the body is currently supported by private donations.
Valeria Babina, a 34-year-old saleswoman, speaks for many young Muscovites when she explains: “The Soviet Union is dead and buried. So shouldn’t we bury Lenin too? It’s absolutely sacrilegious to prevent a man from being buried …it was against the wishes of Lenin’s family.”
The site remains popular with older Russians, and Russia’s leading communists have accused the Kremlin of using the Lenin issue to divide the opposition. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov has called the debate “simply provocative.”
Many statues of Lenin remain scattered around the Russian Federation and in the other states that seceded from the Soviet Union. Facilities and schools named after Lenin can still be found in Cuba and elsewhere. In June 2012, the Socialist Unity Centre of India started an online petition to maintain Lenin’s place on Red Square.
Recent polls have shown that an increasing number of Russians now favor the removal of the corpse, however Vassily, a 56-year-old cab driver in downtown Moscow, believes that: “Lenin’s Mausoleum should be left as it is. When tourists come to Moscow, it’s one of the star attractions. He’s not hurting anyone.”
A December 15 rally in Moscow included a sizeable contingent of young communist supporters, one of whom was 17-year-old Artem Shemchuk, a young business management student in Moscow and a self-described Communist sympathizer. He told Havana Times, “Lenin should be left on Red Square!”
Thirty-four-year-old Roman Bondarev, a Russian interior designer, takes a more nuanced view: “Of course I think it’s time to remove Lenin’s corpse from Red Square, but the mausoleum in which he’s housed should be preserved. It’s an iconic symbol of a particular period in Soviet architecture.”
Even if Lenin’s body were buried, the removal of the mausoleum may prove difficult under international law since UNESCO’s designation of Red Square as a World Heritage site specifically mentions the Lenin Mausoleum designed by Soviet architect Alexey Shchusev.