Lenin is black / Russia Profile

Four drunks are chilling beneath Lenin’s statue. I look up at it: frock-coated, baggy-trousered, goat-bearded, he stares straight ahead toward the inevitable, scientific victory of communism.

Only what he sees is its permanent defeat. In front of him, a new luxury housing estate. Capitalist, bourgeois-fascist. I wonder why they didn’t take him away, or was this some sort of revenge, the thought of the father of communism being discountenanced by this exorbitantly expensive show of defiance?

His head defiantly high, his arm raised fraternally, Lenin stands firm. Even when one of the drunks places his beer with a wet thump on the statue’s plinth, he doesn’t buckle. He knows the moment will come when men and women will shake themselves free again. A babushka shames the lush into taking the bottle down, murmuring under her breath how things have changed, how there is no respect any more for the country’s greatest men.

Lenin is black. Used to be white. Glimmering marble white. No one here in north Moscow remembers how this happened. “There used to be a student dormitory here,” Vasya, one of the winos, tells me. “They built it in the 1930s and of course plumped a Lenin statue in front of it. I don’t know who painted it black, but this isn’t funny. Whoever did this, those vandals, I remember they wrote under it, on the pedestal, ‘Go back to Africa!’ What?! I don’t get this. Yes, the commies fancied Africa, they thought they could bring all of it on their side, but this just isn’t smart.”

Others are less sympathetic. “This blackness signifies the collapse of communism, it means – to me at least – that this system was never going to work,” Andrei, a physics student, says. “Twenty years ago, Yeltsin dismantled the Soviet Union. I know what my parents say, how really tough it was to get by in the 1990s and everything, but hey, at least there’s food in the shops.”

“Yes, there were queues, and maybe sometimes there wasn’t bread on the shelves, but there was none of that liberalist crap then,” the aforementioned babushka butts in. “And you, you wouldn’t be walking around with that smirk on your face asking people about V.I. Lenin. Freedom! You’re running around with that word like it’s a prostitute. Shame. Try running around with that one.”