How times have changed!
Committed communists once hoped to make Vladimir Lenin a religion, replacing Christianity, yet today there's a growing mood in Russia to remove Lenin's preserved corpse from display in a tomb on Red Square, and bury him under a mass of concrete.
So much for him as a rival to Jesus. Ironically, burial was what Lenin wanted - not displayed forever in a glass case.
A while back, a rough poll of Russians found that more than 70% felt he should be removed from Red Square and quietly buried with other Communist leaders. Those who want the body to remain on display (1.5 million people a year line up to look at it) are mostly aging Communists.
So until they die off, the corpse will likely remain on display as a tourist attraction.
When Lenin died in 1924 (there are still those who wonder if Stalin facilitated his demise), he was preserved as the icon of communism.Over the years, his corpse was periodically patched up with plastic, wax and assorted chemicals. Subsequently, it became fashionable when Communist leaders died - the more tyrannical the better - to preserve and display their bodies for perpetual public mourning: China's Mao Zhedong, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, North Korea's Kim Il Sung (and probably Kim Jong Il in the foreseeable future).
When Stalin died (was he smothered by security chief Lavrentiy Beria?) he was enshrined in a glass case beside Lenin, but removed for burial around 1961 after being denounced by Nikita Khrushchev. Middle-aged Russians today may be wistful for Soviet days of guaranteed jobs and housing (if not for shortages and sub-standard quality), but few yearn for Stalin's homicidal paranoia.
Younger generations of Russians want what the West has, thumb their nose at tradition, have confidence in themselves, are wary of authority and couldn't care less about Lenin. Even so, Vladimir Putin, now in his third term as president, is unlikely to oust Lenin from his mausoleum until the still-substantial Communist party is further depleted by age.Visitors to Lenin's corpse are urged to be respectful, while in the bad old days of the Cold War, the tomb had a perpetual honour guard. Respect was demanded.
When I was a journalist in Moscow during the mid-1960s, I once made light of preserving Lenin's body, and compared it to preserving Rockefeller in America as the symbolism of capitalism.
I was summoned to the foreign ministry and warned that if I mocked Lenin, I'd risk expulsion from the USSR. On reflection, I tended to agree with the Soviets, and felt it unfair to ridicule what was important to them. Rather like Soviets mocking our religion, which they constantly did.
I was again reprimanded when I wrote a long article about the KGB, with Lenin's photo beside one of Felix Dzerzhinsky as the founder of the secret police, plus photos of Beria, Nikolai Yezhov and Genrikh Yagoda - all disgraced secret police bosses, with the latter two executed. It was felt by including Lenin's photo, I was besmirching his reputation. Such was the almost religious mystique attached to Lenin.
Putin is said to want Lenin de-mythologized and relocated in a grave, along with other Soviet leaders who expired by natural causes, and not hastened into the next world. If Lenin is evicted from the mausoleum, it firmly closes the door to the past. Not forgotten, but unlikely to be revived or repeated. Or so one hopes.