Lenin’s im­age still di­vides

Some Ger­mans want one of East’s last com­mu­nist sym­bols scrapped

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ONCE OVER - By Matthew Schofield

SCH­W­ERIN, Ger­many — In the 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell, his­to­rian Ralf Wendt has watched much of his for­mer life van­ish. The mu­seum he cu­rated that tells Sch­w­erin’s 1,000-year his­tory was a na­tional trea­sure in com­mu­nist East Ger­many. Once East Ger­many merged with West Ger­many, it was just an un­prof­itable rem­nant and its once-ad­mired ex­hibits were hauled off to stor­age.

Change came else­where, too. The pub­lic art this East Ger­man provin­cial cap­i­tal had proudly dis­played dur­ing 40 years of so­cial­ism was deemed un­in­ter­est­ing to a cap­i­tal­ist world. Piece by piece, it was re­moved and hid­den away. In one case, a school jan­i­tor de­cided on his own to take down and bury a statue of Karl Marx, the Ger­man fa­ther of so­cial­ism.

Now Wendt is watch­ing with cha­grin as the one of the last mark­ers of the East Ger­man era comes un­der at­tack: a tow­er­ing me­mo­rial to the founder of Soviet com­mu­nism, Vladimir Lenin, that stands on a small res­i­den­tial square. It may be the last of its kind in western Europe. A grow­ing move­ment wants it torn down.

“In this mod­ern world, we are told Lenin plays no role,” he said. “But we can­not to­tally ig­nore our his­tory. The mon­u­ment is a doc­u­ment. It says who he was, and that says some­thing about who we were — and are. I don’t un­der­stand the need to tear it down or cover it.”

But such a need very clearly has ex­isted for decades, and it goes far be­yond the bound­aries of this his­toric and quaint lake­side re­sort city. It was seen through­out east­ern Europe as the Soviet em­pire col­lapsed. It’s most ob­vi­ous cur­rent ex­pres­sion is in Ukraine, where stat­ues of Lenin have been fall­ing at an un­prece­dented clip as many in that coun­try re­ject their na­tion’s past his­tory with Rus­sia.

Since Ukraine’s pro-Rus­sia pres­i­dent, Vik­tor Yanukovych, fled the coun­try in Fe­bru­ary, at least 158 Lenin stat­ues have been top­pled in Ukraine, ac­cord­ing to the count of one web­site that pub­lished pho­tos of each of the de­stroyed art­works. Other trib­utes to Lenin have also been erased: a boule­vard was re­named from Lenin to Len­non, to com­mem­o­rate the mur­dered mem­ber of the Bea­tles.

Ukraine is hardly unique in its an­tipa­thy to the founder of the Soviet Union.

Since the Berlin Wall came down in Novem­ber 1989, Lenin stat­ues have been dragged or beaten down in for­mer Soviet states and satel­lites from Ar­me­nia to Ro­ma­nia.

In Berlin, a fa­mous Lenin in gran­ite was hauled away and buried. The burial site is un­marked to dis­cour­age devo­tees from cre­at­ing a me­mo­rial at the site, in much the same way Ger­man au­thor­i­ties re­fused for decades to mark the spot where Adolf Hitler killed him­self. His death spot, now an apart­ment com­plex park­ing lot, mer­its a mul­ti­lin­gual plaque to­day.

All of which lends an air of sig­nif­i­cance to the dis­cus­sion in what used to be near the north­west­ern tip of East Ger­many of what to do with Sch­w­erin’s Lenin.

The de­bate, which be­gan years ago, has in­cluded ev­ery­thing from splash­ing paint on the statue to let­ter-to-the- edi­tor bat­tles in the lo­cal news­pa­per. On Tues­day, for­mer East Ger­man res­i­dent Alexan­der Bauers­feld or­ga­nized a protest and cov­ered Lenin’s head with a bed­sheet to look some­what like a hang­man’s hood.

Bauers­feld’s rea­sons for the protest: the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of the statue causes him se­ri­ous pain. The East Ger­man govern­ment ar­rested and im­pris­oned him as a po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dent. He says hon­our­ing the man at the heart of the Soviet em­pire — he de­scribes Lenin as “one the worst tyrants of the 20th century” — is sim­ply wrong. In June 1953, when Soviet tanks crushed a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing in East Ger­many, many car­ried im­ages of Lenin, he points out.

“Our cam­paign is long over­due,” he said. “The Lenin statue has to go.”

— MCT In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

CLAU­DIA HIM­MEL­RE­ICH / MCT FILES

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