Ukraine revives Soviet-era Lenin exhibit under new Russia-friendly presidentBy Anna Melnichuk, AP
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Lenin exhibit returns to Ukraine after 2 decades
KIEV, Ukraine — Moth-eaten socks and other clothes once worn by Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, have gone on exhibit in Ukraine’s capital for the first time since the former Soviet republic became independent almost two decades ago.
The exhibition, timed to coincide with the 140th anniversary of Lenin’s birth on Thursday, was made possible under the country’s new Russia-friendly president.
In Soviet times, dozens of museums were dedicated to the life of the charismatic founder of the Soviet Union. Leningrad, the cradle of the revolution now once again called St. Petersburg, had 11 of them. Kiev opened its Lenin Museum in 1938, even though Lenin had never been to the Ukrainian capital.
But when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, the collection was dismantled and packed away in storerooms. The statue of Lenin that had dominated Kiev’s main square was destroyed, as were similar monuments throughout the country.
The former Lenin Museum was transformed into an arts center called the Ukrainian House, which inherited the collection.
“We had tried to persuade the authorities to revive the collection over the years, but the answer was always ‘it’s not the right time,’” said Nataliya Zabolotna, director of the Ukrainian House.
The right time came after Viktor Yanukovych became president early this year, replacing Viktor Yushchenko, who had sought to break with Russia and bring Ukraine closer to Europe.
Like Russia, Ukraine has seen a rise in nostalgia for the Soviet period, in part because of the economic downturn. Zabolotna noted the “emotional attraction” of the past for many Ukrainians, but said the exhibition was not intended to glorify Lenin.
“This exhibition is not just to shake off the dust from the museum’s trash, and obviously not to revive Lenin’s cult, but to put it into the modern context,” she said. “A dialogue between pathos and irony, propaganda and criticism, documentary and mystification, this is what the exhibition is about.”
The exhibition includes paintings by modern artists depicting Marilyn Monroe and a half-naked Madonna performing for the Bolsheviks in a mockery of their rule.
A reconstruction of Lenin’s room in the Kremlin shows a table and lamp with an iconic green glass shade, leather armchairs on each side. On the table are writing materials and various souvenirs, including a bronze monkey that was a gift from the American oil tycoon Armand Hammer.
Also on display are porcelain plates with the notorious communist saying, “He who does not work does not eat.”
An inscription on a telephone presented to Lenin in 1923 on his birthday reads “To an honorary electrician of the Kiev (telephone) network.”
In addition to Lenin’s old socks, the exhibition includes the “kosovorotka,” the long peasant shirt Lenin wore while in hiding in the months ahead of the October 1917 revolution, and a copy of the suit he was wearing when shot during a failed assassination attempt the following year.
“All these things give a sense of an epoch, a long historic period, a system of values that many of us were brought up on,” said Nina Sheyko, the exhibition’s curator.
In a separate hall, black-and-white Soviet documentaries playing across a large screen show Lenin and the “heroic days” of the young socialist state.
Muted notes of “Appassionata,” the Beethoven piano sonata that was Lenin’s favorite, filled the exhibition halls.
Most of the people who visited the exhibition on Tuesday, the day after the opening, were elderly. They stood for long periods in front of the exhibits, which filled three floors, taking in the details of Lenin’s life.
“He was an outstanding personality. But the historic situation forced him to be cruel, maybe too cruel. It was a revolution, and a revolution cannot be done without cruelty,” said retiree Grygoriy Zaychyk.
A few young people looked around with interest.
“I thought all this did not exist any more,” said Igor Mazur. “Good that it has been preserved. This is history, whatever it was, and it should be preserved for those who will come after us.”
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