He’s been dead for 85 years, but Vladimir Lenin is still managing to polarize Finland.
Last month, two activist groups in the industrial city of Tampere (180 km northwest of Helsinki) proposed that the city’s Lenin Museum—the only permanent Lenin museum in the world—should be renamed the “Museum of the Victims of Totalitarianism,” and showcase the crimes of the Soviet regime. The Pro Karelia association and the Artillery Guild citizens groups are also calling into question the museum’s yearly grant of $127,000 from the Finnish state, plus a subsidy for two museum employees’ salaries.
The debate has dragged in Finland’s minister of culture and sport, Stefan Wallin. He recently told the Helsinki newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that the support given to the museum shouldn’t be perceived as approval for Lenin’s totalitarian administration. “This is one of dozens of special museums that the state supports and has done so for a long time,” he said.
The museum’s curator, Aimo Minkkinen, also defended the museum, saying it already takes a critical approach to the Communist leader and focuses on the relationship between Lenin and Finland. He added that the museum simply doesn’t have the funds for an expansion to showcase Lenin’s totalitarianism.
Nick Baron, an expert on Russian, Soviet and east European politics at the University of Nottingham, says given the traumatic history between the political right and left in Finland (a brutal civil war between the social-democratic “Reds” and the conservative “Whites” in the winter of 1918 killed almost 40,000 people), it isn’t surprising the museum has become a flashpoint. “Many opponents equate Lenin with Stalin, or that Leninism was a prerequisite for Stalinism,” he says. “Those who are not sympathetic to the left want it either closed down or renamed to underline Lenin’s appalling legacy and the terroristic nature of much of the U.S.S.R.’s history.”
CORRECTION: In the original version of this story we said that 10 million Finns died under Lenin in the 1917 civil war. The correct figure is 37,000. We regret the error.