When the Soviet Union’s first great leader passed away in 1924, those he left behind just couldn’t bear to say goodbye. Therefore, in a practise taken from Egyptian times his body was preserved and has lain in state ever since.
Over the years, the Lenin Mummy has caused much controversy and now, some twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russians feel that it is finally time to bid farewell to a ghost from an unwanted past.
After surviving at least two assassination attempts, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin died on 21 January 1924 after a long period of ill health. He was just 53 and many blamed his early passing on his dedication to work and refusal to take any tangible periods of rest, even though the official cause of death cited a sexually transmitted disease as being responsible.
Preserving the body
It’s claimed that shortly after Lenin’s death, over 10,000 distraught Soviets sent telegrams to the government asking that his body be preserved for future generations. As an instant reaction to these pleas, his body was embalmed in order that it could lie in state and the famous Lenin Mausoleum was subsequently constructed in Red Square.
While the exact process of ‘mummification’ may not have copied the exact methods from the Egyptians, the descendants of Lenin’s embalmers state that the chemical used in preservation, colloquially known as Balsam, is a mix of glycerine and potassium acetate.
In order to keep the former leader in a reasonable condition for public viewing, a chemical bath is administered every eighteen months and a change of clothes is given on a regular basis.
In post Communist Russia the Lenin Mummy is a subject of great controversy. Many feel that it should be removed and buried while Communist voters would naturally be happy for the body to stay where it is.
Others have even voiced concern that the Mummy has mystical powers that would materialise if it were ever moved.
The debate rages on
One of these points of view was neatly summed up in 2005 by Georgi Poltavchenko, an aide to Vladimir Putin,
“Our country has been shaken by strife, but only a few people were held accountable for that in our lifetime,” said Poltavchenko at the time. “I do not think it is fair that those who initiated the strife remain in the centre of our state near the Kremlin.”
A counter argument was raised from a predictable source, Gennadi Zyuganov, leader of Russia’s Communist Party who said,
“Raising this issue smells of provocation and illiteracy,” Mr. Zyuganov said “It seems unlikely that Poltavchenko would come out with a proposal of such desecration of Red Square without approval from the highest power.”
Nearly seven years on from that particular war of words and the situation remains unresolved. The body is in poor condition, sprouting fungi on occasion and reports recently suggested that economic issues meant that Lenin has even been denied his customary change of suit.
So is the Lenin mummy an important relic of the past or just a macabre tourist attraction? Whatever your point of view, the body is here to stay, for now.