MOSCOW: To reach the gigantic statue of Vladimir Lenin that overlooks Moscow’s October Square, pedestrians can stroll down streets named after the Bolshevik revolutionary’s wife or mother, or cross Lenin Avenue that intersects with a road named after his brother.
Yet the man himself seems increasingly to mean little to many people in Russia, the cradle of his revolution.
Lenin monuments, busts and eponymous streets commemorating the leader of the 1917 October Revolution still dot cityscapes across the country and his body still lies embalmed for tourists to visit in the mausoleum on the capital’s iconic Red Square.
“On July 19, 1918, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin met in this building with the party members from factories of the Zamoskvorechye neighbourhood,” reads a plaque in the centre of the Russian capital.
Down the street, another plaque reminds passersby that the Communist leader addressed workers from the Yaroslavl and Vladimir regions from a balcony above their heads.
And Moscow’s sprawling subway system — which carries an average of seven million passengers every day — also officially bears Lenin’s name.
– ‘Relics from our history’ –
In some other former Soviet republics, most prominently Ukraine, many statues of Lenin have been dismantled, toppled or vandalised since the fall of Communism.
But for ordinary Russians the lingering presence of the Communist leader among the advertising hoardings and shopping malls of their consumerist society appears to stir mixed opinions — or more often just indifference.
Every year on the key Communist holidays such as May 1 or the anniversary of the revolution on November 7 dwindling groups of ageing supporters gather with portraits of Lenin at monuments to him across the country.
But while some who are old enough to remember the Soviet epoch view these vestiges of another era with nostalgia, others look on them with resentment.
“These monuments bother me,” said 60-year-old Muscovite Viktor Dzyadko, whose hostility toward the Soviet revolutionary is tangible. “They should all be sent to some museum.”
For the younger generation, who have grown up outside the Soviet system, the presence of Lenin is often little more than a historical oddity.
“During the Soviet era, all these monuments had an ideological role but now they are just relics from our history,” said Alexander Polyakovsky, a 20-year-old student.
“We are witnessing growing indifference,” sociologist Lev Gudkov, the head of independent pollster Levada Centre.
“Lenin does not represent anything to the young generations, who only have a vague idea that he was the founder of the Soviet state.”
In a poll conducted by the Levada centre about views of Lenin in 2015 only five percent of people said they thought his ideas will influence people in the future.
– ‘Atomic bomb’ –
In the heady days of the early nineties during the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the key symbolic statues of Soviet leaders — most famously secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky outside the KGB headquarters — were toppled.
But as the new country plunged into chaos, Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin — often keen not to alienate the large chunk of the population that looked back on the Soviet era with fondness — left most of the Lenin statues untouched.
President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent whose rule has seen the revival of Soviet traditions and controls, followed in Yeltsin’s footsteps and just let Lenin be.
That includes leaving the embalmed remains of the leader on display outside the Kremlin, despite polls showing that the majority of people are in favour of finally saying goodbye Lenin and burying his body.
But that does not mean that Putin, who has surrounded himself with ex-Soviet security agents and been accused of playing down the crimes of Stalinism, is harking back to the ideals of Lenin.
“Allowing your rule to be guided by ideas is right, but only when that idea leads to the right results, not like it did with Vladimir Ilich,” Putin said in a rare reference to Lenin on the anniversary of his death.
“In the end that idea led to the fall of the Soviet Union,” he added.
“They planted an atomic bomb under the building called Russia and it later exploded. We did not need a global revolution.”