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Lenin’s Corpse Still Hot Topic

January 20, 1995

MOSCOW (AP) _ History may have buried Vladimir Lenin. Russia, however, can’t seem to do it.

In recognition of Saturday’s 71st anniversary of the Soviet founder’s death, a handful of people renewed calls for burial of his embalmed body.

Lenin’s corpse was put on display in a tomb on Red Square after he died in 1924. It was one of the Soviet Union’s most revered and most visited monuments.

While most Russians are more concerned with the violence in the breakaway region of Chechnya, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak revived the cadaver controversy last week when he appealed _ again _ to President Boris Yeltsin to bury the body.

Sobchak had hoped to bury Lenin on Saturday _ the anniversary of Lenin’s birth _ in the city that once bore the Soviet leader’s name, Leningrad. Sobchak and others have cited a purported line in Lenin’s will requesting burial, but Lenin’s grand-niece has said he never made a will.

Izvestia published a letter Wednesday by a biologist who worked in the Red Square mausoleum for more than 30 years, urging the burial of what he said was a decomposing body.

But officials at the Volkovo Cemetery in St. Petersburg, where Lenin’s mother and sister are buried, said no preparations have been made to transfer his remains there.

Yuri Leonov, spokesman for the president’s office, said, ``The president is busy with many things. Who knows if he’ll have time to address this.″

Unlike the many Russians who shrugged off Sobchak’s latest appeal, Elena Borisova still feels passionate about the waxy-looking 5-foot, 4-inch corpse, encased in glass for more than seven decades.

``He was a genius,″ said Borisova, a tour guide who has led thousands of visitors through the mausoleum over the past 20 years. ``He should not be moved. You can’t mess with the body of a great man.″

Lenin look-alike Alexander Koklenkov is also opposed to the burial, for less ideological reasons. He occasionally dresses as the Bolshevik leader and charges people to have their picture taken with him near the tomb.

``It’s a good way to make some money,″ Koklenkov said.

The controversy over the body began in 1989, when theater director Mark Zakharov first publicly suggested that Lenin be buried.

The idea was deemed heresy at the time, but gained popularity after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Supporters included the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pressure for burial later waned, following the success of hard-liners and Communists in the 1993 parliamentary elections. They advocate leaving Lenin’s remains in the Red Square tomb.

Meanwhile, lines of visitors to the tomb have also subsided. And many Russians are complaining about the cost of keeping Lenin presentable for the trickle of tourists and mourners still fascinated by the dead body.

While it seems unlikely that Lenin will leave Red Square soon, preparations are under way for the burial of another Russian leader.

Czar Nicholas II, Russia’s last reigning monarch, is scheduled to be buried in St. Petersburg on March 5. Nicholas and other Romanov family members were executed by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in 1918, and the royal remains were recovered in Yekaterinburg in 1991.

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