Leading Article: Handle Lenin with care, Mr Yeltsin

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The Independent Online
THE DEPARTURE of the green- uniformed guards from Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square is only a signal. Days after his victory over the Russian parliament, Boris Yeltsin now seems set to have the embalmed body of Lenin himself taken away. Even Russia's cynics will shake their heads in wonder.

Father of the 1917 revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov embodied the spirit not just of opposition to the Tsars, but also of impatience with the idea of replacing them with a democratic system. Lenin's memory is seized upon by apologists for

Soviet Communism, who cite the warnings against Stalin inscribed in his will as evidence that the system Lenin left in place when he died at the age of 53 in 1924 was perverted by his successors rather than rotten at its core.

Many respectable historians now wish to give Lenin his share of the blame for the oppression and poverty that the Russian people suffered under Communism; they invoke the economic growth and stirrings of constitutionalism in the last years of the Tsars as proof that things would have gone better had the revolution never happened at all.

Even those who disagree will be hard put to argue that Lenin should preside as an official figurehead over his country's uncertain future - which is what the continued presence of his much-repaired remains in Red Square would imply. That famous glass case and its contents would remain an object of veneration and a focus of resistance to change. It was no coincidence that the square in southern Moscow where pro-parliament demonstrators met last Sunday to defy Mr Yeltsin was overlooked by a Lenin of unflinching stone.

Returning his remains to the family plot in St Petersburg would be closer to what Lenin himself, who had an old-fashioned belief that individuals do not much matter in history, wanted. But the clock cannot be turned back. He is too important a figure to be written out of Russian history - and any attempt to do so would give former Communists reason to fear that they, like the bourgeoisie under the old regime, will become non-persons.

Better would be to borrow an idea from the Hungarians, who have assembled all their old Communist statuary in a park in Budapest. Mr Yeltsin should gather together pictures and documents to join the statues, and establish a museum in Lenin's birthplace - still, apparently, called Ulyanovsk - where both sides of his fascinating story could be told. The body could then be buried, with quiet dignity rather than with state honours, among the daisies in the museum gardens.