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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lenin due for yet another fall

A protester breaks apart a statue of Lenin at a monument in his honour after it was pulled down during a protest in Kiev’s Independence Square
A protester breaks apart a statue of Lenin at a monument in his honour after it was pulled down during a protest in Kiev’s Independence Square in December. AFP

Lenin due for yet another fall

At the end of each year, we ponder life’s great mysteries. Why do men have nipples? Why do Asian males have bushy pubic hair, but rarely need to shave their face?

Why are there so many statues of Lenin, but none of Bert Weedon?

The latter topic has resonated recently in our region after a towering bust of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin, was destroyed by protesters in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on December 8.

The outrage was particularly felt in Bangkok and Singapore, which have endured rioting of their own this month, and even more so in Hanoi which has its own vulnerable Lenin statue.

In Kiev, the protesters were enraged because, in their eyes, Lenin’s edifice symbolised their country’s continued domination by Russia.

They had naively hoped that Moscow’s shackles had been severed when the Soviet Union collapsed, but they had ignored the possibility of another imperialistic, Lenin-like figure arising.

Then along came Vladimir Putin, who forced Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich to retreat from forging closer ties with the European Union.

Horrified, the people rose up. And down came Lenin.

Carved from blood-red granite and standing outside the city’s famous Besarabsky Market, the statue was a splendid sight and its destruction is rather tragic.

Still, there are plenty of other Lenins around the world, often in rather odd spots like Bologna, London and Tiraspol.

Among the most impressive is one in Seattle, which shows the great communist revolutionary striding forcefully forwards under the Aurora Street bridge in the funky Fremont district.

Formerly in Slovakia, it was rescued from a scrapyard in Poprad by an eccentric American teacher, who mortgaged his home to ship it to the United States.

In this region, the best known Lenin stands in a small park in central Hanoi, near where a crowd gathered on the morning of December 9, 2007.

At a signal, the people moved en masse to the adjacent Chinese Embassy and unfurled Vietnamese flags and began yelling insults against Beijing’s aggressive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

It was an amazing sight, and like the recent protests in Bangkok, neither the police nor the security services interfered in any way.

Given such seething outbursts, and knowing the population’s antipathy to the Vietnam Communist Party, Hanoi’s leaders rightly fear what might happen to their Lenin statue in the future.

That, of course, is why reports of Lenin’s dismemberment in Kiev were banned in Vietnam.

Initially, the news was available online and the BBC reported that “it went straight to the most read spot, proving even more popular than coverage of the death of Mandela and protests in Thailand”.

Then the censors swung into action and expunged every reference to the smashing of Lenin’s statue in Kiev.

It was not unexpected, given that in November, the National Assembly in Hanoi approved a new constitution reaffirming the VCP as the country’s only allowable political party.

Those who criticise that decision or suggest moving to a multiparty system are given lengthy jail terms.

Blogger Nguyen Van Hai is serving 12 years for writing about government corruption and protests against China over the maritime disputes.

Indeed, the authorities have become so nervous that Hanoi’s popular Communism Café has been put under surveillance due to its “blasphemous” decor.

The café, which features VCP posters and Ho Chi Minh artefacts, has its menus written on pages copied from Lenin’s collected works.

Hanoi’s leaders are not amused. As the state-owned media reported: “This café has trampled on our ideological values, the moral basis of leaders like Lenin and especially Ho Chi Minh.”

Well, while this does not exactly answer any of life’s great mysteries, it does allow us to come to two solid conclusions.

Firstly, when the VCP is overthrown, Ho Chi Minh City will joyfully reclaim its rightful name of Saigon, and secondly Bert Weedon may well be a contender to replace whatsisname in Hanoi.

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