Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Time marches on: Lenin who?

The first time I ever saw a photo of Lenin's embalmed corpse on display in its mausoleum in Moscow, the sight gave me the creeps. There was something dreadful about making a body into an icon--a sort of zombie-esque quality to the whole enterprise. The Soviets may have abolished (or sought mightily to abolish) religion, but they seemed to have replaced it with ghoulish hero-worship.

Little did I know the lengths to which the Soviets actually went to keep the remains intact all these long years. And it's not just the Soviets who were big on these body-as-holy-relic displays; it turns out it's a Communist thing. Uncle Ho is on view in Hanoi, having been secretly super-embalmed by a special Soviet team sent to the North Vietnamese jungle especially for that purpose in 1970 (the Wikipedia article mentions that this seems to have gone against Ho's express wishes, which were to be cremated; it also mentions that other bodies on similar display are Mao Zedong and Kim Il-Sung).

Stalin used to lie under glass in Red Square alongside his illustrious predecessor; I recall seeing photos in my youth of the two of them, looking like bizarro twin Snow Whites waiting for princes who never came. But when Stalin was discredited during the Khrushchev era, he was removed from Lenin's side and buried under the Kremlin wall.

Now a similar fate might await Lenin. The NY Times reports that talk of his burial has been revived, and Putin is in favor of it, although the idea has its detractors.

But to me the most interesting part of the article was the following quote at the end:

No matter what Mr. Putin decides, there already are indications that time may ultimately do what no politician has yet achieved. The youngest Russian adults barely recall the Communist times, and some show little interest in looking back. "Lenin," mused Natasha Zakharova, 23, as she walked off Red Square on Tuesday, admitting that she was not quite sure whose body she had just seen. "Was he a Communist?"


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


At 12:51 PM, October 05, 2005, Blogger THIRDWAVEDAVE said...

FYI: I posted about this last night when the article first came out. Since then, the NYT changed the headline of the story, and now my post makes no sense. Orginal headline read:


Go figure.

At 1:28 PM, October 05, 2005, Blogger Sparky said...

It's not just Communists that put their dead leaders on indefinite display. There are a number of "incorruptible saints" entombed in glass displays in cathedrals and other holy places. One of the most famous is St. Bernadette, whose body has been in a state of remarkable preservation since 1879. There are also rumors that the nuns/monks who attend the body carefully repair the body with wax, makeup, paint or whatever. In Autobiography Of A Yogi, it is told how the body of Paramansa Yogananda was on display, undecayed, for 30 days. And there were stories of a Tibetan monk who was found in a cave in a remarkable state of preservation after performing a ritual "final meditation." When locals found the body, they built a shrine around it, and carefully guard the site. I think it's ghoulish to have a dead body displayed for religious purposes. I'd rather be cremated. But believers flock to these places in a superstitious dogmatic belief that if they can see or touch the body or something associated with it, they will be blessed. It would be more useful to learn what the Saint knew that enabled him to be incorruptible by disease in life and by decay in death. Not to compare Lenin with a saint, but it might be interesting to see how well preserved the body is in comparison to the so-called incorruptible saints.

At 2:06 PM, October 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent choice on the poem and very appropriate for the subject at hand. It prompts a flash of memory of a scene in the movie "Planet of the Apes" where Heston's character encounters the half-burried Statue of Liberty on the beach.

At 5:38 PM, October 05, 2005, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Mildly tangential. In the Szobor Park statues in Budapest, there are none of Stalin. The attempted revolution came in 1956, after he was discredited, and when all the torn-down statues were replaced by the Soviets, none of Stalin were replace.

It has been a nice compromise, what the Hungarians have done. They wanted to avoid falling into the rewriting-of-history trap that would come from destroying all the statues to communists, but they also didn't want to glorify them. So they put them in a backyard out in the suburbs, where tourists can gaze on overdramatic Soviet art, lordly creations ruling over telephone poles and weedy fields. Much like Ozymandias

At 9:41 PM, October 05, 2005, Blogger who, me? said...

"bizarro twin Snow Whites waiting for princes who never came"


"Lenin? Was he a communist?"


At 10:56 PM, October 05, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

"Was he a Communist?"

If memory serves me correctly.....he was.

At 6:06 AM, October 06, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

My favorite memories are of the statues being pulled down. It seems even heros are not long spoken of these days, let alone tyrants.

At 9:01 AM, October 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Washington has yet to be consigned to the dustbin of history, despite the best efforts of the postmodern multicultists. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln... real heroes are remembered in spite of efforts to destroy them, not forgotten in spite of efforts to preserve them.

At 8:46 PM, October 06, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The first time I learned the context of the Ozymandias quote. I have only read the inscribed poetry lines, not the context lines.

Which does give it a different air.

At 8:45 AM, October 08, 2005, Blogger Deadman said...

"Was he a Communist?"

LOL - Ozymandias was an excellent choice to underscore the demise of Communism and the fading memory of younger Russians. Always one of my favorite poems.


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