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Soviet Symbols Going Up and Coming Down

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A statue of Lenin in Kiev (image via Wikimedia)

It’s been nearly a quarter century since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but the physical reminders of Central and Eastern Europe’s communist past are still provoking controversy.

The AFP reports the Kiev city council has green-lighted the construction of an outdoor museum to Soviet statues and monuments — just two months after it angered Moscow by voting to remove all traces of former Kremlin rule from the capital city. The display will cover the seven decades during which the USSR occupied Ukraine (from 1922 until 1991), and it’s anything but an homage.

Instead, Kiev officials hope it will remind Ukrainians of Soviet oppression at a time when pro-Russian rebels have been inciting violence throughout the country. “Our children should also be able to study history through these monuments,” a statement published on the city council website read. “Those who do not remember their history have no future.”

Zentralbild-Ludwig 5.5.70 Berlin: Pionierparade auf dem Leninplatz.Die junge Generation der DDR gestaltete am Abend des 5.5.70 mit einem eindrucksvollen Bekenntnis ihrer Treue zum sozialistischen Vaterland einen Hˆhepunkt f¸r die Delegierten des VII.P‰dagogischen Kongresses. Die Berliner und ihre G‰ste nahmen an dieser ¸berzeugenden Demonstration regen Anteil. Die abendliche Veranstaltung bildete den Auftakt f¸r das 6.Pioniertreffen in Cottbus.
A statue of Lenin in eastern Berlin (image via Wikimedia)

Meanwhile, a giant head of Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin will soon go up on display in Berlin as part of an exhibition titled Unveiled. Berlin and its Monuments — much to the consternation of the German government. The five-foot-tall granite head belonged to a 62-foot-tall statue that once presided over Lenin Square. In 1991, Berlin mayor Eberhard Diepgen ordered its removal, calling it a symbol of a “dictatorship where people were persecuted and murdered.” It was sawed into several pieces, and its head was buried in a sandpit near Muggelsee Lake.

German officials initially tried to block its exhibition, claiming to not know where it was located and pronouncing its excavation too costly. “To the question of whether this is politically sensitive, I think we should say yes,” said city spokewoman Petra Rohland, in an interview with AFP. “It has been 25 years since the fall of the Wall and we naturally thought: is it wise to have Lenin pass through the city and exhibit him in a museum?”

Russia has itself been debating what to do with its old Soviet memorials. Nostalgic leaders on the left have been campaigning to have a statue of KGB “Iron” strongman Felix Dzerzhinsky re-erected in central Moscow. The issue will soon go to a popular vote, even as citizens tear down other Soviet monuments around the country — both intentionally and unintentionally.

Last month, a drunk man tried to take a selfie with a statue of Lenin in the city of Prokopyevsk and wound up breaking it into several pieces. And earlier in May, another drunk person took a hammer to a statue of Lenin near the Siberian city of Tomsk and managed to knock off his head. That job was finished this past Monday, after a man climbed up onto the surviving torso to take his own selfie and lost his balance, breaking the statue in two. “We don’t find this funny,” an anonymous local official told AFP.

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