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Moving Lenin, and Moving On

lenin060408.jpgIn an remarkably simplistic and revisionist statement, former dissident and Russian journalist Aleksandr Podrabinek recently told RFE/RL: “The main feature of Russia today is a narrowing field of liberty in all spheres of life, such as the press, political parties. … I think that this is largely due to the fact that Russia did not come to terms with its communist past. Communism was not condemned, so the communist values continue to live and are considered to be normal.” We tend to think that the underpinnings of Russia’s current problems with liberty and rule of law are somewhat more complex than simple historical reckoning – after all, as Putin well knows, people want to feel pride, not shame, in the past. But the question of how Russia should handle its history continues to pop up. Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment, who is pretty fair and balanced on Russia, once wrote that one of the best things Putin could do to repair his legacy would be to bury Vladimir Lenin (as well as release Khodorkovsky and invite the Pope). Today Medish was joined in this sepulchral call by none other than Mikhail Gorbachev, who told reporters “My view is as follows — we should not be occupied right now with grave digging. But we will necessarily come to a time when the mausoleum will have lost its meaning and we will bury Ilych, give him up to the earth as his family had wanted. (…) I think the time will come … it will happen.” How does this presence of the embalmed former revolutionary leader become the focus of blame for all that has gone wrong over the past two presidential terms? How would removing the mausoleum from Red Square help change the popular conceptions of nation, identity, and justice? What will blossom in its place? Seems that there is a lot to talk about here…