Out of Russia: Communism's first cadaver awaits its fate

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - 'We'll not throw off Communism finally until we've kicked that damned doll out of the mausoleum,' says Sergei, a Russian yuppie who makes a fortune, by local standards, working as an estate agent to foreigners. By no means everyone here shares his contempt for Lenin, whose body still lies in a glass case in a red granite hall under the Kremlin wall as it has done for more than 60 years. Yesterday, after President Boris Yeltsin had removed the goose-stepping honour guard, scores of Muscovites went to Red Square for what they feared might be their last look at the Bolshevik founder of the Soviet Union.

'Hurry, hurry, you've got 15 minutes before the mausoleum closes at one o'clock,' said a policeman standing on the edge of the vast cobbled square. At this, journalists, Japanese tourists and Russians sprinted round to the entrance where the old ritual repeated itself. A policeman checked that we were not carrying cameras or projectiles to throw at Communism's first saint. Then in silence (because talking is not allowed) we processed past the body. As at the display of the Crown Jewels in London, the police move you on and you are back on the street before you know it.

'It's just not right to remove the honour guard; this is the latest insult from Boris Yeltsin,' said Nikita Ivanovich, a pensioner who was a lifelong member of the Communist Party. Alexander, a Russian Jew who emigrated to Israel but was back on a visit, was also worried, but not for ideological reasons: 'It's a piece of history; if it is closed, what else will Russia have to show tourists? Russia is losing all its assets; it produces nothing. Soon it will have only Mars bars in the kiosks and they are not made here.'

Precisely what is going to happen to the mausoleum is not clear, however. Mr Yeltsin retired the honour guard on Wednesday in what was obviously a move to press home his advantage over the neo-Communists after the bloody battle around the White House on Monday. No more will two smart soldiers stand like statues by the mausoleum door until the guard is changed on the hour to the chime of the Kremlin bells. The men were reported to have expressed their 'understanding' for the President's decision. But ordinary police remain inside and around the tomb to prevent demonstrators from committing any act of sacrilege. What are the plans for Lenin's future?

'Don't ask questions. Don't you know what country you are in?' said a policeman at the entrance to the mausoleum. So I asked his boss. 'It's a dark wood. Nobody knows. We haven't been told anything,' said a senior sergeant who identified himself only as Alexei. So I asked his boss. 'We expect the mausoleum will open again at the weekend but we have received no orders,' said the assistant to the mausoleum commandant, Vladimir Kamenich. So I asked his boss. 'It's still not clear, the top political leadership is deciding,' said Andrei Olegov, of the guard for the entire Kremlin. 'But if you want to know my personal opinion, we should give Vladimir Ilyich (Lenin) a decent burial according to Russian Orthodox traditions.'

The 30 technicians who have spent their working lives giving Lenin baths in special preserving fluid at 18-month intervals and controlling the temperature around the body cannot believe that they might soon be made redundant. 'Of course the mausoleum is not going to close; this cannot happen, I really don't think so,' said Tatyana Vasilevna, secretary to the biochemist Sergei Debov, who has cared not only for Lenin but used his secret formula to embalm the Marxists of the world, from Czechoslovakia's Klement Gottwald to Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh.

But the impossible might be about to happen and if it does, Lenin is likely to be buried next to his mother, Maria Ulyanova, in the Volkovskoye writers' cemetery in St Petersburg. According to some historians, this was his last wish, ignored by Stalin, who denied him eternal peace and turned him into an icon to bolster his own totalitarian rule. Removing the body for burial, however, would be a delicate operation, as Communists are likely to protest strongly. After this week's terrible battles, does Mr Yeltsin need another fight?