Russians shouldn’t bury Lenin until they uncover his lies
Russians must face up to Lenin’s brutal legacy – as Germans did Hitler’s.
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The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin is credited with having said, “If you want to hear something stupid, ask a foreigner what he thinks of Russia.” Perhaps, but the Soviet Union was also my home for five years and Lenin and his heirs shaped so much of the 20th century beyond Russia’s borders that today non-Russians have a right and an obligation to weigh in on Lenin’s legacy.Skip to next paragraph
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To Westerners who witnessed the Soviet Union’s sunset years, there was little illusion but that Lenin’s legacy was intellectually thin and tattered. My former colleague Andy Rosenthal used to jokingly call him “Dead Fred the Head Red.” This was heresy and sacrilege to generations of Soviet citizens. But it was a welcome alternative to obsequious verses like this from Russian poet Demian Bednyi, “Lenin! O Lenin! Your immutable fate has shown the world a resplendent path.”
As this year’s online poll shows, Russians appear to be gaining some healthy skepticism about Lenin. As recently as 2004, a survey showed that 63 percent of Russians had a positive view of Lenin’s role in history – though younger respondents had a much lower impression. Most young Russians I meet in the US today are indifferent to Lenin’s legacy. But therein lies the rub, for those who forget the past are often condemned to repeat it.
Condemned to repeat it?
So much of Lenin’s Soviet Union was a bald fabrication, and hundreds of millions of Russians dutifully lived the lies. It was a terrible betrayal of the Russian people who were themselves complicit.
Ivan Turgenev once wrote, “Russians are incorrigible liars, but there is nothing they like more than someone who will tell them the truth.”
Societies are corrupted by the lies their leaders tell. The greater the untruth, the more corrupt the society becomes. But nations cannot airbrush their history. Interring Lenin beside his mother in St. Petersburg may paper over, but will not expunge, the bloody Bolshevik past. Shakespeare reminds us that “the evil men do lives after them.” Modern Russia would dishonor communism’s victims if Lenin’s corpse is smuggled out of town on a moonless night.
Speaking about Lenin’s impact on Russians, Winston Churchill put it best: “Their worst misfortune was his birth ... their next worst – his death.”
Russia must still have its reckoning, not a confession or a mea culpa, but an honest educational curriculum in schools that teaches students how Lenin seduced their great-grandparents into serving a totalitarian state. The Germans came to terms with history after World War II, and are the richer because of it. Younger Russians today deserve no less than the same truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.