Lenin and Soviet past not yet history in Russia

Lenin is still in his mausoleum on Red Square, his statue stares down on central squares and hammers and sickles are a familiar sight on buildings.

Twenty years after the collapse of the USSR, the Soviet past is still very present in Russia.

In Moscow, huge statues of the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin stand outside the interior ministry and Leningrad station, which has kept its name despite sending trains to the renamed city of Saint Petersburg.

Driving in the Russian capital can sometimes seem like a trip back in time — there is the Avenue of the 60th Anniversary of the October Revolution, Marxists Street or Revolutionary Square.

Particular controversy is aroused by the street named after Yuri Andropov, who was briefly Soviet president but also served for many years as KGB chief, sending dissidents to the camps and persecuting the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Nobel peace prize winner Andrei Sakharov.

The situation is even more pronounced in provincial cities, most of which boast a statue of Lenin as well as streets named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the feared Bolshevik secret police.

Virtual patron saint
A bust of Dzerzhinsky, who is still a virtual patron saint of the Russian security services, adorns the interior courtyard of the police headquarters in Moscow. A suburb of the capital is still called Dzerzhinsk, as well as an industrial centre 370 kilometres to the east.

“Why are will still honouring Lenin, Dzerzhinsky and other criminals? Why are we still putting commemorative plaques on buildings where Lenin just once happened to stick his foot in?” asked Russian historian Yan Rachinsky.

“Moscow has stayed a Communist city,” said Rachinsky, a member of the Memorial rights group which fights to preserve the memory of the victims of Soviet repression.

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — a former KGB agent who once called the USSR collapse the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century — has never shown any desire to get rid of the vestiges of Russia’s Soviet past.

There is a staggering contrast in Russia between the huge number of monuments glorifying the Soviet past and the almost total absence of memorials remembering the most tragic excesses of Communist rule.

“There is no plaque in the Moscow prisons to remember the tens of thousands of innocent people who were jailed,” said the historian Irina Shcherbakova, also a member of Memorial.

Brutal agents
By contrast some of the most brutal agents of the purges of the Communist era, notably Dzerzhinsky and his successor Vyacheslav Menzhinsky still enjoy pride of place with graves in the centre of Moscow at the Kremlin walls next to that of Stalin.

“The work on coming to terms with the past that started when the USSR fell has been interrupted,” she said.

Among dissidents, only Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov have the honour of streets named after them in Moscow but even these avenues are in less frequented areas.

Memorial has asked in vain for years that the former military prosecutors office in Moscow — which gave out 30,000 death sentences between 1936 and 1938 during the Stalin purges — is made into a museum of terror and a memorial to the victims of repression.

The authorities have also refused to put up commemorative plaques in Moscow on the former homes of writers like Varlam Shalamov, Isaac Babel and Yuri Dombrovsky who were all victims of the Stalinist terror.

“You could argue that this is a secondary issue but I am convinced that you can’t even dream of a state of rights in Russia when the bust of Dzerzhinsky adorns the police headquarters in Moscow and roads and cities bear the names of criminals,” said Rachinsky. — Sapa-AFP

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

Democracy and the left in post-apartheid South Africa — An interview with Ben Turok

A veteran ANC stalwart and member of parliament speaks about the party, Parliament and the dearth of left politics in South Africa

Are the Russians forging an ’empire’ in Africa?

Russia's increased presence on the continent is mostly about pursuing lucrative business opportunities

Tenants of the ITB, unite

You have nothing to lose but your leases, whose legitimacy is being tested in court

France and Croatia seek World Cup glory

It is a final few people anticipated when football's global showpiece kicked off four weeks ago

France finish top ahead of Denmark after World Cup stalemate

France have scored just three times in three games, including a penalty and an own goal

Anti-Kremlin journalist back from the dead as Ukraine admits set-up

The 'murder' had been staged in order to foil an attempt on his life by Moscow according to the head of Ukraine's security service

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…