Russians see red over plans to open Lenin theme park

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The Independent Online

Plans to turn a revered Soviet-era memorial complex dedicated to Vladimir Lenin into a sprawling "Leninland" theme park have been drawn up. The idea is the brainchild of Sergey Morozov, the governor of the Ulyanovsk region where the father of the Russian Revolution was born in 1870.

Mr Morozov hopes to attract free-spending foreign tourists to Lenin's birthplace 500 miles south-east of Moscow and makes no apology for his capitalist instincts. "Lenin is an excellent brand from which we can make money," he told Izvestia newspaper.

The proposed theme park would include a mock-up of Red Square where May Day parades would be held every day, a "talking" statue of Lenin that tells visitors about Communism, and a recreation of a collective farm.

The experience would be interactive; visitors would toil on the collective farm in exchange for black bread, be accosted by theme park employees posing as secret police agents, and be herded into cattle trucks by guards to recreate the feeling of being exiled to Siberia.

Though the idea is anathema to local Communists, it has apparently found favour with a group of mysterious American investors who are said to be willing to fund Mr Morozov's fantasy. Leninland would be built around an existing memorial complex which has fallen on hard times. The complex includes an imposing 12,000 square metre white marble exhibition hall containing Lenin's death mask and other artefacts as well as a huge park on the banks of the Volga. At the peak of its popularity it attracted 17,000 visitors a day but now it is doing well if it gets a few hundred and management is reported to have resorted to hiring out the facility for "exotic nights" with strippers and vodka.

Mr Morozov has come up with creative ideas for the memorial complex in the past but none has come to fruition. Last year he appealed for unwanted Lenin statues for an open-air sculpture park. But though Lenin may have fallen out of fashion, other towns and regions did not want to part with the estimated 1,800 statues. Plans to turn the memorial complex and park into a branded Lenin Hills ski resort have also come to nothing due to concerns about the area's geology.

The Leninland plan appears closer to reality however, though it is not without its critics including the Lenin memorial complex's director. "We're talking about the open exploitation of Soviet epoch symbols," he told the Novye Izvestia newspaper. "It would seem that Vladimir Ilyich would be presented as some kind of monster or scarecrow. Somebody has decided to use Lenin for purely commercial aims."

Sergey Petrov, an expert on the region, is also against the idea, but concedes that it would probably be a success. "Can you imagine what a high it would be for a tourist? You could wander around the park being pursued by secret agents. It would be extreme." Reports that the investors are American have also caused upset. "In response," said Mr Petrov "we should build an Alabamaland ... [with] plantations for black slaves and underground prisons".

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