Clinging to Lenin's Legend Long After the Revolution
City in Finland keeps flame alive for Soviet leader
TAMPERE, FINLAND — IN this industrial city, where Communists were executed following the 1917 Russian revolution, is a museum dedicated to an unlikely hero: Vladimir Lenin.
Lenin's body may be in Moscow, but his cap and his wig are in Tampere, Finland's second-largest city. He briefly stayed here after being forced into hiding after the failed 1905 revolution against the czar.
"Lenin was always for the independence of Finland and other small nations," says Leena Kakko, acting director of the museum, which is the only one dedicated to the founder of the Soviet state in the West. "In the Soviet Union, Lenin was only a good person, an icon. But we consider him a remarkable human being with some weaknesses, a person who started a process which later took on a life of its own," she adds.
The two-room museum opened in 1947 on the initiative of the Finnish-Soviet Friendship Society. It was built in the former Tampere Worker's Hall, where Lenin met his future successor, Joseph Stalin, for the first time in 1905.
In its recent heyday before the Soviet collapse, more than 25,000 people visited this museum in south-central Finland each year, the majority being Soviet tourists making obligatory pilgrimages planned by their government.
"There were always some Soviet tourists who didn't want to hear about Lenin, of course," recalls Ms. Kakko. "They were the ones quietly discussing in the back where they could buy pantyhose in Tampere."
These days, only 7,500 people per year make the trek - but not only from the former Soviet Union. Last year, the United States ambassador to Finland came to pay Lenin his respects.
But funding from the Finnish government is shrinking, so this shrine to Lenin now sells wooden Lenins, busts of Lenin, and outdated Lenin posters to keep afloat. The first room of the museum has much of the usual cult paraphernalia, a memorial plaque exhorting Lenin to "Live Forever."
The second room, which explores Lenin's relationship to Finland, displays a copy of a letter from the Soviet government granting Finland independence from czarist rule in 1917. Finland was ceded by Sweden in 1809 and forced to become an autonomous duchy within the Russian empire. At the time of the October Revolution, many Finns supported Lenin because he favored their independence movement.
The working-class city of Tampere had a strong tradition of trade unions and workers' rights. But many Communists eventually were shot here during Finland's civil war in 1918.
The room's crowning glory lies inside a new exhibit case, where the displayed items are on loan from Moscow's former Lenin Museum, which closed in 1993.
Titled "Cap, Coat, and Wig," the exhibit displays the dark cap and a badly made blond wig Lenin wore when he hid incognito in Finland from 1905 to 1907. So far, visitor interest has been limited.
During the Soviet era, every Russian city had a Lenin museum, which acted as a propaganda arm of the Communist Party Central Committee. But Lenin museums are shutting down in cities throughout the former Soviet empire. President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, for example, transformed the almost-completed Lenin Museum in the capital of Alma Ata into a luxurious palace for himself.
Lenin appears to have had a hard time everywhere - except in Finland. When his embalmed body was facing eviction from its red-granite mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square, rumor said it could be rehoused in Tampere.