Vestiges of Empire – Tracking Lenin statues through Russia and Ukraine
I grew up in a country that is pathologically allergic to patriotism. I don’t think I need to tell you about the country I was born in and patriotism. Which, among other things, translated into a lot of statues and monuments. Broken Lenins and Stalins are part of our stock downfall-of-an-empire imagery, so I didn’t expect to find many during our trip. But in many places, Lenin seems to have gotten a pass, and morphed into nothing more than a benign monument symbolizing not-much-at-all.
This is what I thought had happened. But instead, I found a lot of this:
This one at Finland Station is pretty iconic, so I get why it’s still up. The statue is in a large square/park area directly across from the station – it’s all fountains, trees and benches. And Lenin. The Neva is on the other side of that, and if you walk along the bank for a few minutes, you’ll reach the Kresty Prison, where families once lined up for hours waiting for some word of missing, tortured and probably dead, loved ones. The first day we walked through, the square was deserted. A small boy walked past the Lenin with his parents – “Do you know who that is?” asks the mother. “That’s Lenin.” The child has no idea. The second time we walked through, though, the square was packed with children, lovers, ice cream eaters, and the vaguely homeless.
Bonus Lenin points:
We spent the final five days of our trip in Ukraine, which, as a former Soviet republic, is where part of my family came from. Ukraine is fairly divided from west to east, and, as I understand it, most of the independence streak comes from the western parts of the country. Oddly, this seemed to be mimicked in my (admittedly not very thorough) Lenin statue-hunting. We spent two days in Zhitomir, formerly a major Jewish centre, and the small towns (ie. shtetls) around it. Lenins everywhere. (We weren’t in Kiev long enough to find the Lenin, but he’s still standing, apparently less a nose.)
Then we headed to Lviv, where we found plenty of statues of Ukrainian (and the odd Polish) hero, but no Lenins to add to my collection. (Lviv was part of Poland for centuries, but under the communists, became part of the Ukrainian republic and is now one of the cities of independent Ukraine. Neither group liked each other much, but both could agree on a mutual dislike of Russians and all things Russia. Just 20 years after the collapse, there’s virtually no Russian heard on the streets anymore; most people understood me in Russian, but consistently spoke back in Ukrainian.)
For next time, I’m skipping the hours and hours of flying time – all the Lenin-ness I need is right here on Wikipedia: “List of statues of Vladimir Lenin“. He’s also been turned into a soda – available on Amazon! – and many, many matroyshkas.) Thanks, interwebs.