Despite Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s request before his death that no memorial be created for him, by the 1980s there were statues of him in every city, town and village in the Soviet Union – both monuments in honour of the man and symbols of socialist idealism. In addition, streets, squares, collective farms, medals, wheat hybrids and even an asteroid named after the architect of Soviet communism made their way into collective existence. During Soviet times, a city’s population governed the size of its Lenin statues, with larger areas receiving larger Lenins, while smaller towns might have received only a bust instead. Likewise, the great honour of creating a Lenin statue was only given to proven artists and loyal communists.
Following the collapse of Communism, many Lenin statues were torn down, removed or destroyed in an effort to herald the openness and progress promised by a new society. In Central Asia, however, most Lenin statues were left untouched, left to the mercy, instead, of both nature and time. Although some statues have been replaced by monuments to independence and freedom (in Tashkent and Bishkek) or to national heroes (the Shah Ismail Samani monument in Dushanbe), Lenin still remains the central feature of many town squares and city halls where he commonly towers from above in granite or bronze with an anachronistic arm pointing the masses in the direction of a glorious socialist future.
In Central Asia today, many older people who grew up during the Soviet period still esteem Lenin and the ideals for which they believe he stood. Meanwhile, there are those who feel oppressed by the still omnipresent figure of a man they consider to have been a tyrant and a murderer. Contrast these with a younger generation who specifically seek out Lenin to have their photograph taken at his side and those who regard Lenin statues as fine examples of socialist-realist sculpture that should be preserved regardless of their political subcontext, and the complexities of collective history open up before you.
Photographs by Chris Herwig, Vladimir Pirogov and Mike Steen