The Corner

About that Lenin

Writing in the Atlantic, Uri Friedman recounts the history of the Lenin statue demolished in Kiev on Sunday, who was, it turns out, a New Yorker of sorts:

The statue, it turns out, has a remarkable history—and not just as a locus of protest during the latest wave of demonstrations in Ukraine. The monument was first created by the Soviet sculptor Sergey Merkurov, a man famous for making a plaster “death mask” of Lenin on the night he passed away, for a Soviet exhibition at New York City’s World’s Fair in 1939…. And it was hastily imported to the Ukrainian capital in 1946 when, as one BBC account puts it, local authorities suddenly realized “that unlike all the other Soviet republic’s capitals, Kiev had mysteriously remained Lenin-free.”

… In recent years, however, the monument had become a fierce battleground between nationalists, who detest Lenin and Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs, and communists. In June 2009, a month after the pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko called for the country to “cleanse itself” of communist symbols, nationalists chopped off the statue’s nose and arm, sparking skirmishes and even an effort by Communist Party supporters to volunteer as guards and defend the sculpture around the clock…. The fight over the Lenin sculpture in Kiev mirrors a larger battle in Ukraine over monuments to the country’s communist past—one primarily waged between the traditionally nationalist west and pro-Russian east. In August, RIA Novosti noted that at least 12 Lenin statues had been defaced in Ukraine since 2009 as part of a “statue war” between communists and nationalists.

That any Lenin statues were left standing in the first place says, of course, all too much about the incompleteness of Ukraine’s transition from its Soviet past.

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