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Controversial Lenin statue unveiled in Germany

June 20, 2020

A statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin has been unveiled in the western German city of Gelsenkirchen. The installation comes amid global protests against monuments to controversial historical figures.

The statue of Lenin in Gelsenkirchen is unveiled
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Seidel

Over 30 years after the end of communism in the Eastern Bloc, the western German city of Gelsenkirchen on Saturday unveiled a new monument to the controversial Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

The unveiling took place amid global protest over statues immortalizing divisive historical figures.

Germany's tiny Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD), who led the initiative to install the statue, said it was the first statue of the Russian revolutionary figure to be erected in the former West Germany, decades after the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR) communist state fell.

The unveiling of the over 2-meter (6.5-foot) tall statue, originally produced in the former Czechoslovakia in 1957, was accompanied by speeches and music. Participants waved red flags from the square where the statue was erected and from the rooftops of the buildings around it.  

Lenin statue
The MLPD said it is the first such statue ever to be erected on the territory of the former West GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Seidel

Read more: What should be done with controversial monuments?

"The time for monuments to racists, anti-Semites, fascists, anti-communists and other relics of the past has clearly passed," MLPD chairwoman Gabi Fechtner said in a statement.

By contrast, "Lenin was an ahead-of-his-time thinker of world-historical importance, an early fighter for freedom and democracy," she argued.

Attendees were asked to practice physical distancing and to wear a face mask to protect against coronavirus infections.

Council attempts to block installation

Not all residents of Gelsenkirchen, a city of 260,000 and the center of Germany's former industrial and mining Ruhr region, were happy about the new monument. 

"Lenin stands for violence, repression, terrorism and horrific human suffering," representatives from mainstream parties on the district council in Gelsenkirchen-West said in a resolution passed in early March, in an attempt to block its installation.

The council "will not tolerate such an anti-democratic symbol in its district," it added, urging "all legal means" be used to block its installation.

Read more: Opinion: Let's topple statues to decolonize

But the upper state court in Münster later rejected the council's attempt to halt the statue, which it argued would interfere with a historic building on the same site.

Square in Gelsenkirchen where statue will be erected
Some have argued that the Lenin statue will spoil the look of an historic buildingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

Statues toppled around the globe

Statutes and monuments in Germany and around the globe have come under fire as part of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, which began following the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Last week in Hamburg, a statue of Otto von Bismarck, Germany's first chancellor, was splattered with red paint. Bismarck, who orchestrated Germany's unification in 1871, is also known for hosting the Berlin Conference of 1884, in which Africa was divided between European colonial powers. 

Berlin has experienced its own controversies over the renaming of roads honoring 19th-century colonial figures in the city's so-called "African Quarter." The activist-led initiative has met with resistance from many locals.

In recent weeks, protesters in the US, UK and Belgium have succeeded in pulling down statues of Christopher Columbus, slave trader Edward Colston, and King Leopold II, who brutally ruled over the Congo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In Germany, by contrast, only a handful of statues have been splattered with paint. 

kp/mm (AFP,dpa)

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