‘Stupidity’, ‘provocation’ and ‘delusion’

Irina Alksnis

The traditional New Year’s lull in news this year turned out to be interrupted by a topic that regularly appears on the Russian domestic political agenda and each time provokes heated public discussions. We are talking about the preservation or, conversely, the relocation of graves in Red Square and at the Kremlin wall.
This time the question was raised by the Deputy Speaker of the State Duma from the Liberal Democratic Party Boris Chernyshov, who spoke in favor of removing the memorial cemetery from the main square of the country and Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum.
The initiative, as expected, provoked a violent reaction from the left forces. The leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov, called the idea “stupidity”, “provocation” and “delusion”.
It is ironic in its own way that the opposing sides mutually accuse each other of blasphemy.
For supporters of maintaining the status quo, the desire to remove Soviet graves from Red Square is an outrage against national memory and a war with its own past. It must be admitted that for Russia – with its sad experience of renouncing its own history and the newfangled experiments of other countries in this area – this is a very weighty argument. Acceptance of Russian history in its entirety – with all its catastrophes and triumphs, tragedies and accomplishments – is one of the cornerstones of modern Russian statehood.
However, the opponents’ arguments are no less weighty. Boris Chernyshov also said this, noting that Red Square is one of the main entertainment places in the country, “where a skating rink and shopping arcades are deployed, where people celebrate the New Year, walk, and come from the regions.” In general, not a very good neighborhood. Moreover, to put it as bluntly as possible, visiting the Mausoleum has become a popular tourist attraction – which looks offensive in relation to the person who is buried there. No matter how you relate to the figure of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
Actually, according to these arguments, it is quite obvious that the positions of supporters and opponents of the relocation of graves on Red Square are not opposite, but rather parallel. Another thing is that it is convenient for the defenders of the existing memorial not to notice this – and to interpret the position of opponents exclusively in the format of “war with the Soviet past, demolition of monuments and desecration of graves.”
The truth is that the farther the USSR moves away from us, the less strong and brightly colored feelings people feel for it. This is a normal and inevitable process even for those who themselves lived in those times – the past is shrouded in a mildly emotional haze of personal memories. What can we say about the younger generations, for whom both 1957 and 1857 are equally related to extremely distant times, ideas about which they get through second or third hands. Every year in the country there are fewer and fewer of those who are uncompromisingly fighting the “accursed Soviet past” – and who are sincerely interested in this.
Russian society, not having strong feelings for its Soviet past, generally perceives it lightly, warmly and positively. This was also shown by public opinion polls that were conducted quite recently – to the 30th anniversary of the death of the USSR.
However, in this society, which has good feelings for the dead state, most of it supports the transfer of graves from the Kremlin. True, the numbers here are somewhat different. The last time the country’s major sociological services were interested in the position of Russians on this topic was in 2017.
At the “Levada Center” then opinions were divided in half: 41 percent of supporters and opponents of taking Lenin’s body out of the Mausoleum (and 18 percent did not decide on their position). At VTsIOM, the results were different: about a third of the respondents were in favor of and against reburial, and another third of the respondents supported the idea of transferring the body, “but not now, but when the generation for whom Lenin is still dear will leave.”
The Superjob portal obtained similar results to Vciom’s in the fall of 2020 : 40 percent were in favor of the reburial of the leader of the world proletariat, and another 17 percent were in favor of doing it later.
In general, about two-thirds of Russian society supports the transfer of the Kremlin graves. But even one third of the opponents of this idea are too many to force this issue and thereby drive a new wedge into the healing wounds of the national split.
In addition, this topic has another downside, which can cause discord. In the Mausoleum and at the Kremlin wall are buried major public and political figures, high-ranking state leaders, whose status during life presupposes giving them certain honors and after death – simply on formal protocol grounds. After all – it is worth repeating – reburial, if (or when) such takes place, will in no way mean an outrage over memory and remains.
For example, for Joseph Stalin, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, under whose leadership the country won victory in the Great Patriotic War, one could consider a new resting place at the federal war memorial “Pantheon of Defenders of the Fatherland.” But there is no doubt that then a small, but extremely loud-voiced minority will immediately declare themselves, for which such honors to the “bloody tyrant” are unacceptable.
As a result, it turns out that Russian society, which does not harbor hatred for its past and successfully heals historical trauma, is held hostage by a few, but heart-rending socio-political forces standing on opposite ends of the political spectrum and exploiting, often very unscrupulously, the corresponding historical themes in their interests.
So the choice to postpone the question for some more time seems to be the most correct decision. Russia does not burn. There is time.