The return of Lenin

After being closed since 2012 to conduct repairs on its foundation, the Lenin Mausoleum has now reopened.  So, if you are into morbid tourism, Lenin has now rejoined the likes of other embalmed leaders open to public viewing, a list that includes China’s Mao Zedong,  Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh,  and both of North Korea’s last two Kims.

Of course, it’s not just communist countries that pickle their former leaders.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was going to join the list, but the government apparently waited too long to make that decision.

I sometimes use this poster in class to draw parallels between the cult of Lenin and Russian Orthodoxy. The words translate as “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live.”

So why do countries do creepy things like leader embalming and public display? The BBC has an article on this (in which they also describe the process that they use to preserve bodies for long-term display), but the simple answer is that it allows a state to preserve a personality cult past the traditional expiration date (yes, I couldn’t resist the horrible pun).

In a lot of ways, this behavior heralds back to the mummified saints of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, where a lack of decomposition signified the purity of the individual (and can be used to count as one of the “miracles” required for sainthood).  Appropriately, this embalming behavior seems most common to countries with a strong Catholic or Orthodox culture, or ones that borrowed the practice from one of these countries…like Vietnam and China.

Of course, there is always the Simpsons version of why the Russians embalmed Lenin…

Ah, Tumblr…where you can find a lot of weird pictures.

…in case of emergency (or opportunity), return to Soviet Union.



  1. Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website
    is great, let alone the content!

    1. Thanks! I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and have actually hosted (or helped run) workshops on blogging. Of course, I can’t take all the credit – I’ve had some pretty awesome students who have made great contributions to the material on this blog!

  2. Have you ever thought about including a little bit more
    than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all.
    Nevertheless just imagine if you added some great images or video clips to give your posts
    more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and video clips,
    this site could undeniably be one of the most beneficial in its field.
    Awesome blog!

    1. Thanks for the suggestions! Now, the reasons why we might not be as image/video heavy…and what I might do to improve it…
      1) Students write a lot of the longer blogs. Some of them are really good at finding visual material to go along with their writing, some are not.
      – That can be an easy fix, though. I’ll just require students to find pictures and videos for their future assignments!

      2) I run this as a professional/academic blog, which means I also use it to teach students about the proper use of proprietary material when on the web…which means I have to pay more attention to things like copyright rules than a regular blogger. I can use my own images or opensource materials – otherwise, I need to be really careful about citations.
      – Not so easy of a fix. I’ll do my best to add visuals whenever I have the chance!

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