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After 73 years, Lenin still holds court

January 21, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Though long dead, Vladimir Lenin is in full command of Red Square, with visitors filing into his tomb to see his embalmed body, bathed in golden light.

Their numbers have shrunk, but the tourists and schoolchildren still show up. So do the die-hard Communists, who on Tuesday _ the 73rd anniversary of the Soviet founder’s death _ laid flowers on the dark marble landmark.

After the Soviet Union’s untidy 1991 collapse, Lenin’s days seemed numbered. The government began plotting to oust him from the mausoleum and even took away his goose-stepping guards.

But nothing’s been done for years. And now, with President Boris Yeltsin’s fragile health putting Russia’s entire political agenda on hold, the question of Lenin’s tomb has become small potatoes.

Russians seem to be making a peace of sorts with their history, and the anti-Lenin feelings that surged after the Soviet collapse have subsided. One city, Ryazan, even decided to bring back a statue of Lenin that was removed from its central square three years ago.

Nadezhda Andreyeva, a teacher leading her Moscow class on a tour of Red Square on Tuesday, said it was important for children to see Lenin’s tomb.

``It’s our history and they should know it,″ she said, adding that future generations will be able to judge the country’s past for themselves and she saw no need to send Lenin packing.

But the tourists and the children and the party faithful turn out in smaller and smaller numbers as the years go by.

Only about 200 Communists showed up Tuesday to honor Lenin by laying wreaths at the tomb. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov was there, speaking out against moving Lenin’s body.

``The difference between civilization and barbarity is an attitude toward the past,″ he said. ``Our present reformers have shown a rare barbarity by renaming streets and squares, tearing down monuments, drinking and stealing.″

Later in the day, police prevented a handful of students from showing their disrespect for the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution by laying a wreath of barbed wire and dried fish at the tomb. ``Dried-up fish for a dried-up leader,″ the ribbon said.

Some Russian newspapers, giving front-page coverage to the anniversary of Lenin’s death, spoke out Tuesday in favor of keeping his body in the mausoleum.

The Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper wrote: ``There is blood on Lenin’s hands, but Napoleon Bonaparte had no less. And the French honor him and name their streets and boulevards after him.″

Other Russians sympathize with calls from the Russian Orthodox Church to bury Lenin in his family plot in St. Petersburg.

``He should be put in the ground, in a Christian way,″ said Anna Volkova, a 74-year-old Muscovite who visited Lenin’s tomb, once the most sacred spot in the Soviet Union, for the first time on Tuesday.

People from across the Soviet Union used to line up for hours to see Lenin. Now, it’s possible to just stroll across the square and into the mausoleum after passing through a quick security check.

``You used to have to get up early and stand in line,″ Volkova said. ``Now it’s easy.″

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