Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lenin Still Points the Way in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek's huge Lenin statue remains the only major statue of Lenin left in Central Asia, presiding over the ceremonial heart of the capital city. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union, most of the new Central Asian republics demolished their monuments to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The Kyrgyz it seems have decided that he and his legacy are still very much a part of the country's history: although there are occasional debates in the press and parliament, there is a special law on the preservation of the statue.

His statue was still standing in the main Ala Too Square (formerly Lenin Square) in Bishkek until 2003, when it was removed to the other side of the historical Museum.  (Statues were removed from the main squares of other Central Asian capitals much earlier). In Kyrgyz cities and towns many streets  still bear his name. At one time the main street in every town and village was called Leninskaya, and one of the four administrative districts of Bishkek is still named Leninsky.

Since declaring their independence, the Kyrgyz people have moved a few of the most conspicuous Lenin monuments, but there is no shortage of residual iconography in smaller squares and parks. Not far away, in Oak Park, sit Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, deeply engrossed on some finer point of dialectical materialism.

Bishkek's Lenin statue was replaced by one of Erkindik (Liberty) - a winged female figure on top of a globe, holding aloft a tunduk, the circular frame that forms the top of a traditional Kyrgyz yurt. She was replaced in 2011 (evidently some Kyrgyz believed that a woman holding a tunduk was a bad omen) by Manas, the national folk hero.

The extraordinary video clip below shows the removal of Lenin's statue in 2003. In one scene there is a literal (not just figurative) changing of the Kyrgyz guard as Lenin's monument is skilfully dismantled.

Related posts:
Tours to Kyrgyzstan 
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings 
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan
Karakol: A Frontier Town in Kyrgyzstan