MOSCOW — His party’s power is long gone, his ideas mostly discredited — but Vladimir Lenin’s visage remains a fixture in much of the former Soviet Union.
The thousands of statues of him spread across the vast region bring to mind poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s ringing line of devotion: “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live.”
The past tense applies to many of the statues. They were torn down and pulverized by angry mobs, as happened in Kiev during the wave of protests in 2013-14, or methodically demounted by local authorities.
Some of the Lenin statues taken down with care were moved from public squares and prominent points to quiet, secluded parks. There Lenin seems less like a fiery leader than a grumpy retiree, his arm outstretched as if trying to call back a bus that sped past him.
But in other spots, that arm is clearly calling the masses to rise up and go forward.
That effect is especially dramatic in the statue that towers over the square at St. Petersburg’s Finland Station — a site historically renowned as the place where Lenin returned to his homeland aboard a sealed train after years in exile, a few months before the 1917 Russian revolution.
Viewed as a whole, the statues are monotonous — Lenin is always portrayed as stern — but there are individual nuances. In some, he holds a lapel in a gesture of self-confidence. In others, like the one in the center of Moscow’s noisy, traffic-choked Kaluzhskaya Square, he has one hand in his pocket, casually surveying the scene with a boulevardier’s air.
Of all the statues, the one that may distill the cult of Lenin to its purest form is the seven-meter (25-foot) tall head that dominates the central square of Ulan-Ude, a city 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) southeast of Lake Baikal in southeast Russia.
There’s no body language to read, just Lenin’s judgmental stare.
The square was redesigned especially to accommodate the giant head. Removing it would leave the square seeming barren and pointless. There, at least, it’s likely that Lenin will live.