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Lenin in Tajikistan: ‘Better Hitler’ or ‘Real Hero'?

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Tajikistan, Citizen Media, Education, History, Politics

On September 21, 1991, less than two weeks after Tajikistan proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union, angry crowd toppled a monument to Vladimir Lenin [1] in the center of Dushanbe. The removal of the monument symbolized the desperate rush of the nationalist intelligentsia and some politicians to rid themselves of all reminders of their communist past.

The civil war that broke out soon afterwards delayed the demolition of many other monuments to the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in the Central Asian republic. Only in the 2000s, when the leadership of Tajikistan embarked on a new nation-building project, Lenin's monuments began to fall all over the country. ‘Grandfather Lenin’ disappeared from the central squares of major cities and towns in Tajikistan. His monuments were replaced with newly sculpted statues of Ismoili Somoni [2], a ruler who is credited with creating a Tajik empire in the tenth century.

In most cities and towns of Tajikistan, Soviet monuments to Lenin were replaced with statues of Ismoili Somoni. This monument to Somoni stands on Dushanbe's central square, right where Lenin's statue was toppled in 1991. Photo by Alexander Sodiqov (2010).

A ‘better Hitler’

The government's rush to take down Lenin's sculptures has provoked heated debates among the country's bloggers. Some have argued that the monuments of the Soviet period should be destroyed and forgotten because of all the pain and suffering that the Bolshevik conquest inflicted on the region.

In December 2011, journalist Salim Aioubzod explained [3] [tj] in his blog why there is no place for Lenin's statues in the new Tajikistan:

Ленин дар моҳи ноябри соли 1919 Михаил Фрунзеро ба ҳайси фармондеҳи Ҷабҳаи Туркистон ба Осиёи Марказӣ фиристод. Бо ин шиор, ки “мақсад ишғоли қаламрав нест, мақсад нобуд кардани ҳариф аст.” Барои ман инҳо далели кофиянд, ки ҳама чизи марбут ба Ленин ва шайкаи ӯ дар гулхан сӯзонида шавад. Пайкараҳои ӯро бояд барчид ва нобуд кард. Онҳо таърих нестанд, дарде таърих аст, ки аз он замон то ҳоло ва боз ҷовидонаҳо мардуми ҷаҳонро азият медиҳад.

In November 1919, Lenin appointed Mikhail Frunze [4] the commander of the Turkestan Front and sent him to Central Asia. The [reason for Frunze's dispatch] “was not to conquer the territory, but to eliminate all enemies”. I believe this provides enough justification for burning everything related to Lenin and his gang. His sculptures should be collected and destroyed. They [sculptures] are not history; history is the pain that has tormented so many people ever since and will always continue to do so.

After 21 years of Tajikistan's independence, there are some statues and busts of Lenin remaining in the country. This photo depicts a big sculpture of Lenin in Istaravshan, northern Tajikistan. Image by Sergey Abashin (2012), used with author's permission.

The blogger also compared [5] [tj] Lenin to Adolf Hitler [6], the leader of the fascist Germany:

Агар пайкараҳо таъриханд, чаро дар Олмон пайкараҳои Адолф Ҳитлерро аз ҳама ҷо бардоштанд? Оре, Ленин Ҳитлери каме беҳтар буд, ҳарчанд шояд дар шумораи қурбониёни ҷангу террори онҳо тафовути зиёд нест. Миллионҳо нафар.

If sculptures are [important for historical reasons], then why did Germany remove all statues of Adolf Hitler? Yes, Lenin was a slightly better Hitler, although there isn't probably much difference in the number of people killed in the wars and terror the two individuals led. Millions of people [were their victims].

More recently, on November 1, Tojikzamin [7] continued the discussion. Perplexed by an observation that Lenin's statues can still be found in schools across Tajikistan, the blogger claimed [8] [tj]:

Мо набояд аз он фаромӯш кунем, ки ҳайкал ин чизи безарар нест. Кӯдаконе ки дар муддати 11 соли хониш хар рӯз Ленинро мебинанд ҳеҷ гоҳ ватандӯстону миллатдӯстон намешаванд. Онхо доимо фикр мекунанд ки мо дар давлати Шуравӣ зиндагонӣ мекунем, яъне давлате ки аз тарафи Русия “матушка” роҳбарӣ мешавад. Ин кӯдакон доимо фикр мекунанд ки “бобои Ленин” кахрамони бузургтарини халқи тоҷик мебошад, ва аз кахрамонҳои аслии миллатамон бехабар мемонанд. Хузури даҳҳо ҳайкалхои Ленин дар ҷумҳурии соҳибистиқлоли мо барои тамоми тоҷикони ҷаҳон айб аст!

We shouldn't forget that statues are not harmless objects. Children which see Lenin every day during the 11 years of school will never love their Fatherland or their nation. They will always think that we still live in a Soviet state, the state that is governed by ‘mother Russia’. These children will always think that ‘Grandfather Lenin’ was the greatest hero of the Tajik people and will not know the real heroes of our nation. The continued presence of tens of monuments to Lenin in our independent republic disgraces all of the world's Tajiks.

This statue of Lenin long stood on the central square of Khorog, eastern Tajikistan, before being replaced in 2010 by a monument to Somoni. Photo by Alexander Sodiqov (2009)

A ‘real hero’

But some netizens think differently.

Commenting on the removal of Lenin's monument in Khujand, the northern Tajik city that had been called ‘Leninobod’ (the ‘City of Lenin’) between 1939-1992, Alexey Somin wrote [9] [ru] in his blog:

Разве этот памятник кому-то мешал? Разве мешал он нам строить новое государство, с новыми принципами и ценностями? Почему он просто не мог оставаться там, где стоял, и служить в качестве исторического памятника?

Самое обидное, что памятники и бюсты Ленина убирают по всей стране, заменяя их памятниками Сомони. Зачем? Что такое сделал Сомони, что он заслужил стоять на месте Ленина? Да, когда-то давно он основал империю, в которой таджикский язык был государственным. Но эта империя никогда не называлась “Таджикистаном” и она развалилась через 100 лет. После этого у таджиков не было своего государства, они жили под гнетом тюркских народов. А при Ленине это государство появилось. Так кто же тогда сделал больше для таджиков и для Таджикистана?

Did the monument disturb anyone? Did it prevent us from building a new state, based on new principles and values? Why couldn't we just leave the monument to be where it was and to serve as a historical monument?

The most offensive thing is that Lenin's monuments and busts all over the country are replaced with monuments to Somoni. Why? What did Somoni do to deserve to replace Lenin? Yes, he did found an empire a long time ago where Tajik was the state language. But his empire was never called ‘Tajikistan’ and it collapsed after only 100 years. After that, the Tajiks did not have a state of their own, they lived under the yoke of the Turkic peoples. And in Lenin's period [the Tajiks] got a state of their own. So who did more for the Tajiks and Tajikistan?

A massive statue of Lenin long dominated the landscape of Khujand (previously ‘Leninobod’), in northern Tajikistan. Photo by Alexander Sodiqov (2003).

Commenting under this blog, Dalnoboyshchik wrote [ru]:

Полностью согласен! Памятники Ленину нужно оставить! Это наша история, её нужно уважать. Пусть ставят новые памятники, кому угодно, но и Ленина пусть не трогают. Одно другому не мешает. История рассудит кто был настоящим героем и больше сделал для нашей страны.

I fully agree! Lenin's statues should be left where they are! This is our history, it should be respected. Let them erect new monuments, to whomever they like, but they shouldn't touch Lenin. History will show who was a real hero and who did more for our country.


The last days of Lenin's statue in Khujand. Image by Asia-PLUS, used with permission.

What to do?

These ongoing debates over monuments are representative of larger battles over values and interpretations of history within Tajik society. Meanwhile, some Tajik netizens also discuss what to do with the Soviet sculptures taken down by the authorities.

Underneath Somin's blog [9], Beparvo proposed[ru]:

Да я согласен что Ленин исторический памятник. Но тогда он не должен стоять в центре каждого города и поселка в Таджикистане. Он должен быть в музее. Да не нужно выкидывать эти памятники или разрушать их. Это история. Нужно их акуратно и спокойно перенести в музей.

I agree that Lenin's statue is a historical monument. But in this case, this monument should not remain in the center of every town and village in Tajikistan. It should be in the museum. These monuments should not be disposed of or destroyed. They are history. They should be carefully and quietly taken to the museum.

Temur Mengliev has a different opinion:

Нужно поступить умнее. Наиболее важные с исторической и эстетической точки зрения памятники Ленину нужно перенести в музеи. А все остальные – а таких по Таджикистану сотни – нужно продать посредством аукциона. Есть ведь граждане, для которых Ленин много значит. Вот пусть и покупают эти памятники и устанавливают у себя во дворе или на даче.

We should be smarter. The most important of Lenin's statues – from the historical and aesthetic points of view – should be taken to the museum. And the rest of the statues – of which there are hundreds across Tajikistan – should be auctioned. There are citizens for whom Lenin means much. Let them purchase these monuments and place them in their yards or in dachas.

21 years into independence, some Tajiks still revere Lenin. In Varzob, some 40 kilometers north of Dushanbe, a granite bas-relief of Lenin decorates a newly-built mansion. Photo by Christian Mark Bleuer (2012), used with permission.