MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) — Almost 94 years after his death and a quarter century after the fall of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin’s mummified body continues to be displayed in a mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow.
Though the question of what to do about Lenin’s body comes up regularly in Russia, authorities have so far been reluctant to remove the corpse.
Here is what you need to know about the body of the first Soviet leader.
– The mausoleum –
When Lenin died in January 1924, Soviet authorities organised a competition for artists to build a monument to the revolutionary leader. Alexey Shchusev, one of early Soviet Russia’s most renowned architects, won it.
He initially erected two provisional wooden mausoleums before building the final version, made of concrete and covered in marble, which he only finished in 1930.
The monument, a straight-angled red pyramid right by the Kremlin walls, was partially reconstructed in 1945 when a platform was added for Soviet leaders to stand on during Red Square parades.
– A Soviet symbol –
Lenin’s body was originally supposed to be shown to the public only temporarily, since he had asked to be buried. But Soviet leaders decided to preserve him and turned his mausoleum into a major Soviet symbol.
When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, his body was placed next to his predecessor’s for the public to visit. Stalin’s corpse was removed from the mausoleum in 1961, during Nikita Khrushchev’s de-stalinisation, and placed in a nearby necropolis by the Kremlin wall.
– Scientifically maintained –
The conservation of Lenin’s embalmed body for over 90 years is an unlikely scientific challenge that has involved generations of researchers.
His body is preserved by a group of scientists linked to Moscow’s Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. The group has also worked on preserving the corpses of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Angola’s Agostinho Neto and North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung.
Every week, the scientists check on Lenin’s body, which lies at a specific temperature and humidity. The mummy is encased in a glass sarcophagus which protects him from bacteria and prevents him from drying out and decomposing.
– A state secret –
The scientists have not revealed the secret to maintaining the body. But one of the group’s members, Pavel Fomenko, explained the embalming procedure after the death of Kim Jong-Il in 2011: “We remove all internal organs, fill the veins with a solution and extract blood from the tissues.”
“The body is placed in a glass bathtub filled with an embalming solution, closed with a lid and covered with a white sheet. Precise temperatures and humidity are maintained in the room.”
Progressively, the solution replaces the water inside the body cells. The embalming process lasts about six months, the scientist explained.
– An uncertain future –
Should Lenin’s body be removed from the mausoleum and buried as he wanted? Successive leaders have have avoided the question.
In the 1990s, president Boris Yeltsin did not dare touch the issue. He feared the reaction of the Communist Party, then a real opposition force in a newly post-Soviet Russia.
His successor, Vladimir Putin, has also preferred to leave Lenin alone. Putin has said that “there is a time for everything” and that the Russian people will decide to bury Lenin “when the moment comes”.
According to a survey conducted by independent pollster Levada in March 2017, only 31 percent of Russians oppose finally putting Lenin into the ground.
© Agence France-Presse