The New Russia may have finally embraced free-market capitalism, but Vladimir Lenin, founder of Soviet communism and one of the great murderers of the twentieth century, still casts a long shadow across the Russian landscape. Indeed, when I journeyed to Russia with my family last summer to research my forthcoming novel, Moscow Rules, it seemed Lenin was our constant companion. His statue still looms over the gates of the city that once bore his name, with its arm heroically extended as if poor Vladimir were forever trying to hail a cab. Streets still bear his name, as do squares, schools, parks, and sports clubs. And he still snoozes peacefully in his little rose-colored mausoleum at the edge of Red Square, a waxen figure in a bottle, well-dressed and neatly groomed. One cannot enter a tourist bazaar without stumbling across all manner of Lenin paraphernalia, including ubiquitous metallic busts of the great man that peer inscrutably from dusty shelves. Sometimes, the head of his accomplice and successor, Joseph Stalin, stands next to him. In one market on the outskirts of Moscow, I saw a fine little statuette of Lenin seated in a chair, clearly thinking deep thoughts. I wondered what weighty matter was he pondering at the moment the artist conceived this iconic image. The annihilation of a village that would not bend to his will? The murder of a rival? Or perhaps he was thinking about killing a few meddlesome shopkeepers who didnít quite see the wisdom in submitting themselves to "the dictatorship of the proletariat."
Imagine if the scene were Berlin instead of Moscow. Imagine if, near Brandenburg Gate, there stood a hundred-foot-tall statue of Adolf Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute. Imagine if one could buy a bronze-plated bust of Hitler in a flea market in the Tiergarten. Imagine if one could window shop in the Hilter-Strasse or take lunch at an outdoor cafť in the Hitler-Platz. Or if one could view Hitler's body -- or his ashes, perhaps -- in a sacred tomb at the edge of the Alexanderplatz. Editorial pages, interest groups, and political leaders throughout the civilized world would surely howl with indignation and anger. And rightly so.
Fortunately, the idea of a giant Hitler statue standing in the heart of Berlin is laughable. So why is this not the case in modern Russia? Why are there no howls of righteous indignation from Western shapers of opinion over the display and sale of symbols of a murderous, totalitarian system? And why donít the leaders of the New Russia remove the statues of Lenin, change the names of the streets and squares that still bear his name, and give his poor old carcass a proper burial?
The silence in many quarters of the West is, sadly, easy to understand. During the Cold War, many of the opinion leaders in Western Europe -- the academics, the essayists and novelists, the campaigners for peace and human rights -- were too often willing to overlook the Soviet Union's inexhaustible list of crimes against humanity because they were adherents of Marxist-Leninist bilge themselves. Lenin was to be forgiven his sins because, in their eyes, his cause was just. As for Stalin, yes, he was a monster, but he was also a hero, the man who single-handedly fought Nazi Germany to a stalemate until the American and British could join the fight. Many conveniently overlook the fact that, by agreeing to the infamous Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939, Stalin was the one who made the Second World War possible in the first place.
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