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Moscow Attractions: Lenin Mausoleum - to Keep or not to Keep?
December 26, 2006 14:29

The Red Square Cemetery

Red Square in pre-revolutionary Moscow was a typical trade square with the usual willow market before the Easter. In the course of the October Revolution Bolsheviks buried 238 dead bodies right along one of the walls in Red Square, and at once this laid a revolutionary ritual cemetery status to the Easter square. The first public rallies, demonstrations took place here, at the mass grave, as public oaths of allegiance to the new political regime. After Moscow had turned into the capital, Red Square automatically got the status of the main cemetery of the Soviet Republic. A separate grave in Red Square was given to one of the party leaders Yakov Sverdlov in 1919. Later, in 1920, American journalist John Reed was buried there. That’s why it went without saying that Vladimir Lenin must be buried in the Red Square when he died. By the day of Lenin`s funeral, 24 January 1924, there had been built a temporary wooden mausoleum for the leader’s coffin. The marble and granite mausoleum with speaker tribunes we can see now appeared in 1930 and became an innovative complex consisting of an inner chamber with Lenin's mummified body, and tribunes and parade marches on the outside.


In the first days after Lenin`s death nobody even thought of embalming his body – authorities relied on severe frosts. However, numerous delegations from all around the country and telegrams from workers asking to show the body of Lenin to the whole world gave an impetus to perpetuate the body and not commit it to earth.

The widow and sisters of Lenin were strongly against making a “doll” of Lenin, but they remained unheard, as the propaganda effect was more powerful than common sense. Nevertheless, Soviet medics managed to operationally cope with the unique task of embalming, and a red Soviet pharaoh appeared in Moscow. Throughout the Soviet period the Lenin Mausoleum was a must for school pupils and students, for visitors from Soviet republics and foreign tourists. Many photographs of the era document long queues of people, waiting to get in to see the Soviet leader.

70 Years Later

After the USSR collapse Lenin cult’s time was over, and there have been many talks about the mausoleum’s appropriateness. There appeared the idea to demolish the mausoleum, commit Lenin`s body to earth near his mother’s grave in St. Petersburg, and also to get rid of the cemetery of Soviet political leaders in the centre of Moscow. Recently the Russian Academy of Sciences has rigorously spoken out on the historical importance of Vladimir Lenin's figure and the fact of his embalming and has called to bury the body, demolish the mausoleum and replace it with a monument to Minin and Pozharsky.

However, the vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences expresses perplexity about the opinion his colleagues presented: “Academic institutes must be engaged into dealing with science, but when they make a political judgement as a response to a public organization - it clearly looks like someone’s command”.


The opinions on whether the body of Lenin must remain in the Mausoleum or to be buried vary from extremely radical to indifferent. Lenin`s burying supporters think it is not in Russian and European traditions to make a dead body open to the inspection of everybody, while those who want Lenin Mausoleum to remain in the Red Square say it is still one of the places of interest in Moscow, which is not a hindrance to anyone.



Natalya Lavrentyeva

Tags: Vladimir Lenin Russian history Moscow   

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