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The Body of Vladimir Lenin is Still on Display and Still Controversial

Samantha Flaum
Photo by Getty Images
Photo by Getty Images

The body of Vladimir Lenin is a relic of a time long gone. Red Square in Moscow is one of the most visited attractions in Russia. Its name does not come from communist affiliations, but a play on words in the Russian language: the word “red” comes from the same stem as the word “pretty,” one oft used to describe the public square since before the 18th century. It is located right in the center of Moscow and all of the city’s major streets lead out from the Red Square.

The square stretches among St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, the State History Museum, and GUM (the Russian Macy’s). Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also plays host to the tomb of the Father of the Russian Revolution and first Communist leader: Vladimir Lenin.

Lenin’s Mausoleum also known as Lenin’s Tomb, situated on Red Square, is the mausoleum that serves as the current resting place of Vladimir Lenin. The Senatskaya Tower, Moscow Kremlin Wall and Kremlin Senate on the background.

Lenin’s Mausoleum also known as Lenin’s Tomb, situated on Red Square, is the mausoleum that serves as the current resting place of Vladimir Lenin. The Senatskaya Tower, Moscow Kremlin Wall and Kremlin Senate on the background.

Despite his wife’s wishes for him to be buried, the politician has presided over Red Square since his end, meaning his body can still be viewed to this day. Though heavily regulated via mausoleum guards and metal detectors, visits can be paid to Lenin’s tomb and displayed embalmed body — after possibly waiting in a long line in the Russian cold — for free.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin, Russian communist leader, politician, and political theorist.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin, Russian communist leader, politician, and political theorist.

Upon entering the tomb, in a dimly lit red and black room, Lenin’s body, measuring a mere 5’ 5” lays beneath the bulletproof glass, redressed recently, in 2017. Though it looks more like a wax figure these days than a human being, the body is carefully tended to. The corpse is preserved by baths in various reagents and solutions like hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid, ethyl alc., and quinine.

The wooden version of Lenin’s Mausoleum, March 1925. Photo by Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-01169 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The wooden version of Lenin’s Mausoleum, March 1925. Photo by Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-01169 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Soviet government funded preservation until its fall in 1991, after which private donations replaced financial support. Funding efforts were again taken up in 2016, and a budget of about $200,000 was set for the upkeep of the tomb. Despite major changes in politics over the decades, the body of Vladimir Lenin doesn’t seem to go forgotten.

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin, Lenin’s cat, and an American journalist in the Kremlin, 1920.

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin, Lenin’s cat, and an American journalist in the Kremlin, 1920.

Lenin had been in poor health for years, suffering several strokes, being confined to a wheelchair, and even considering taking his own life. His cause of death is mildly disputed: it was recorded as a terminal blood vessel disease but over time people have suggested arteriosclerosis which leads to coronary artery disease. Regardless, the politician succumbed to his illness on January 21, 1924 when he fell into a coma and passed away hours later in the town of Gorki.

Lenin in 1923, in a wheelchair.

Lenin in 1923, in a wheelchair.

His corpse wasn’t immediately interred in a mausoleum in Red Square, however. Upon the leader of the Soviet Union’s demise, the body was placed in a red coffin and transported to Moscow by train, where it was laid in state, on view to the public for three days.

Then, the funeral took place and the body of Vladimir Lenin was carried into Red Square where it was interred in a first mausoleum. Five years later the temporary mausoleum was replaced with granite. In 1940 and 1970, the casket was replaced.

Kremlin wall Spasskaya Tower and Lenin’s Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow.

Kremlin wall Spasskaya Tower and Lenin’s Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow.

During the Second World War, Lenin’s body traveled to Tyumen so as to protect it from any damage. The tomb was restored after 1945. It’s a wonder that such care and protection has been given to Lenin’s body. During and after his life, the politician has had cult support as well as extreme criticism. During and after the Soviet Union, his body has seen comparable treatment.

Read another story from us: The TIME Persons of the Year that Caused the Most Controversy

There is a constant debate over whether or not Lenin’s remains belong in Red Square. A political party in Russia ran an online poll in 2011 in which 70 percent of participants voted to relocate the tomb. In 2017, a poll conducted by private interviews with random Russian citizens revealed that 41 percent think that the tomb should be relocated.

It’s difficult to say if Lenin will ever leave Red Square. His body has held such a long tenure in Moscow that it’d be a big change for Russia if it was ever relocated.