Imagine being an Auschwitz survivor, or the child of one, and witnessing a giant sculpture of Adolf Hitler raised in your community. Imagine protesting this development and then being scolded for not understanding and appreciating artistic merit. Imagine being informed that this sculpture has nothing to do with Nazism or politics, but only with the capacity to enjoy an aesthetic art form. Then imagine that your efforts to have this image removed fail. This is then followed by tourists coming around and jokingly taking pictures of themselves in front of the sculpture.
There is absolutely not the slightest chance that this would ever happen anywhere where sanity reigned. But it is happening today in Seattle in the context of another genocidal experiment.
Today, a giant 7-ton bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin towers over Evanston Avenue North and North 36th Street in the Fremont district of Seattle, a rather eccentric neighbourhood known for its rebellious artsy yuppies and time-frozen hippies who refuse to believe the 1960s are over. It is a monument of a bearded Lenin, embalmed in bronze, who forcefully strides in intense contemplation, obviously pondering the next step of the world revolution.
Why is this statue posing in Fremont? Because after it was crafted by the Soviet artist Emil Venkov and erected in 1988 in Poprad, it was torn down by angry Slovaks during Czechoslovakia's 1989 liberation from communism, and left in a junkyard with Lenin's face smudged in a puddle of mud.
In came Lewis Carpenter, a Seattle resident and art connoisseur, who happened to be teaching in Poprad at the time. He stumbled upon the toppled statue and was greatly impressed with its artistic merit.
Carpenter bought the statue (rumor has it for $13,000) and mortgaged his Issaquah house to afford the cost of shipping it home ($28,000). When the statue was first raised in Fremont, many Russian émigrés protested the move, arguing that Lenin represented the system that had persecuted and killed millions of their people. But the "tolerant" segment of the Fremont community ultimately won out. Lenin stayed. The accepted interpretation, bestowed with much highbrow sophistication, was that the statue wasn't about communism, but about pure art, devoid of political meaning. In other words, the sculpture was simply a profound reminder of how art transcends and outlives politics. Thus, the statue even became somewhat of a joke. Tourists would have their photographs taken standing beside it, as a souvenir of their vacation.
Russian émigrés everywhere have not been amused. I know, I am a Russian émigré myself. I left the Soviet Union at the age of five with my family. While I was lucky enough to be spared personal persecution, millions of my people, including my family and relatives, did not receive this luxury. Knowing that Lenin founded a regime that wiped out some 60 million of my countrymen for the idea of class equality does not send tingles up my spine, nor does the knowledge that the figure of Lenin now stands prominently at an intersection in Fremont.
I guess you can say it's personal. Very personal. My family only recently discovered that my father's father, Jacob, was killed by poisoning by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, in the great purges of the 1930s, for reasons that remain unfathomable in a civilized world. My mother's father, Gregory, went missing in action in the Second World War. My mother, like my father, never knew what it was like to have a father. Not only that, my Mom lived her entire life not knowing what happened to her dad, only suspecting that he was killed by the Nazis. We have now been informed differently. Mom had to live her life dreaming of a father that might have been because, well, class equality had to be achieved. We have only recently discovered that Gregory was killed by his own side, for refusing, as a medical doctor, to supervise the execution of dissidents. The regime, after all, had to get rid of all obstacles on the path to class utopia. Because Gregory did not want to cooperate in the tactics necessary to build the new Soviet man, he himself had to be exterminated.
The stories can go on endlessly, about all of our family and relatives that simply went missing during the Stalinist terror that lasted until the dictator's death in 1953. For me, it gets more personal because of my own father. My dad escaped the gulag by a fraction of an inch. A dissident in the 1960s, he signed many petitions against Soviet tyranny. His closest brush with the gulag, or with forcible confinement in a psychiatric institution, came in 1968, when he signed the "Letter of 12," which denounced Soviet human rights abuses and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. One of the letters went to the Congress of the Communist Parties in Budapest. My father was immediately instructed to recant and apologize, but he refused. Thus, he was expelled from his job from the Academy of Sciences. Recently disclosed documents from the Andrei Sakharov archives have informed our family that Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB at the time, wrote memoranda accusing my father of being involved in terrorism and espionage. It meant the gulag was beckoning, with the most severe sentence awaiting.
It explains why a woman neighbour during that horrifying period, in which we lived everyday in terror, waiting for a knock at the door, all of a sudden informed us that she was going to commit suicide. My mother, with her intuitive instinct, knew that the woman's plan of self-destruction was linked to our fate. Upon pressing the woman for the reasons of her suicidal urges, my mother finally received a startling confession: our friend and neighbour had been a rat for the KGB for years, informing about every detail of our lives. And now she informed us that foreign currency and drugs were to be planted in our apartment for the approaching KGB search. She had agreed to be a witness against us.
My father knew that the only escape now was to apply for an exit visa. That came with its own risk, since indicating a desire to leave the Soviet paradise left a person open to the charge of being mentally ill. This is why so many Russians who applied for exit visas were labeled "Refuseniks" and were then fired from their jobs, institutionalized in psychiatric hospitals, or made to confront various other sorts of punishments and "treatments."
In the end, we were among those who got away. The Nixon-Brezhnev détente in the early 1970s led to an "opening of the gates" in the Soviet Union. Our family was among those that received exit visas.
Perhaps my readers might understand why statues of Lenin don't inspire me, no matter what their aesthetic value. I couldn't care less whether they were sculpted in gold. They don't inspire anyone from the communist world who was not a member of the "favoured class" and had to taste the real flavour of Marxist-Socialist reality.
So why is it that Russian émigrés, and all victims of communism from around the world, have to be so profoundly insulted by the raising of a statue of Lenin, while Jewish people never have to worry about this society raising a sculpture of Hitler or of a swastika? Well, because the Left has completely achieved its control of Western social discourse. Mass murder and genocide is inexcusable in our society in the context of racial hatred, but it remains understandable, and even laudable, especially in academic circles, in the name of class hatred. Thus, it doesn't really matter that Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago was about a reality that had just as much to do with Lenin as it did with Stalin. In the "progressive" mindset, Lenin must be forgiven because of his ideals.
But though the Left cannot stomach the idea of it, the truth and empirical reality remains undeniable: that it was the idea of socialism that created Lenin, and it was Lenin that paved the road to Stalinism. As the opening of the Soviet archives has confirmed, Lenin's favorite order was the one given to execute. His infamous opinion has now been engraved in the historical record: that the greatest mistake of the French Revolution, which Lenin stressed must not be repeated by his Bolsheviks, was that not enough people had been killed. That is why Lenin initiated ruthless terror on a wide and far-reaching scale, to be perfected by his successor, who ended up annihilating more than 30 million lives for the sake of class equality. The late Dmitri Volkogonov did an impressive job in demonstrating this tragic truth in his biography Lenin: A New Biography, where he confirmed, in his meticulous utilization of Soviet documents, that Stalinism's roots resided in Vladimir Lenin.
Today, Lenin's statue continues to stand prominently at its infamous intersection in Fremont. It is also for sale for $150,000. The buyer will most likely be allowed to raise it in full view once again – on public property. After all, we are told that it reflects artistic merit. But reality tells us something different: that artistic impressions of mass murders can never be apolitical, not in the case of racial hatred, nor in the case of class hatred. Genocide is what it means in the dictionary, and Lenin represents it remarkably well. Enjoying the aesthetic quality of Lenin's images, therefore, is a luxury that communism's victims can ill afford.