An ex-Soviet Republic Where Lenin Has Not Been Toppled (NYT)

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Thu Oct 28 01:26:24 MDT 1999

An Ex-Soviet Republic Where Lenin Has Not Been Toppled

ISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- For many years, when this Central Asian capital was
called Frunze, the busiest place on Frunze Avenue was the Mikhail
Vasilyevich Frunze Museum.

Patriotic observances were held there, visiting dignitaries solemnly filed
by the exhibitions, and groups of schoolchildren went to learn the values of
Soviet patriotism that Frunze exemplified.

That has all changed. The museum halls are all but deserted, and most people
here now view Frunze, who was an early hero of the Red Army, as a distant
figure at best, an agent of brutal colonialism at worst.

But the museum is still open, and the street in front is still called Frunze
Avenue. Kyrgyzstan has chosen a middle path in dealing with its 70 years of
Soviet history. Unlike some other former Soviet republics, it is seeking to
overcome its past without denying it.

This compromise with history is also visible at the city's main plaza. A
towering statue of Lenin remains, but beside it a simple new monument has
been erected to commemorate Kyrgyzstan's independence. Children practice
their skateboard moves on the once holy pedestal where Lenin stands, but
keep a respectful distance from the independence monument, which is flanked
by a permanent honor guard.

Inside the National Historical Museum, which faces the plaza, just two of
the three floors are open. On the top floor are ancient artifacts and other
relics of the distant Kyrgyz past. The bottom floor is devoted to
exhibitions about the country's achievements since it became independent in

But the middle floor, which was devoted to Karl Marx and the triumphs of
communism, is dark and roped off. Administrators have not decided what to do
with it.

"We don't want to eliminate the history of the Soviet period, because that's
history, too," said the museum director, Jumaly Momunkulov, 63, who was a
baby when his father was arrested for teaching the Koran and taken to a
prison camp, from which he never returned.

"People in Kyrgyzstan are known for being a bit slow," Momunkulov said. "We
like to think for a while before we react. When we think and go beyond our
emotions, we realize that the record of the Soviet period was not all bad.
We're looking for the right balance."

The question of how to deal with Frunze reflects both the way history was
used in the Soviet era and the way the new government is dealing with it.

The Frunze Museum is built around a sturdy three-room house where Frunze is
said to have spent his childhood. Some historians believe that it is not his
house at all but an edifice that the Communists built to resemble what his
idealized house should have looked like.

Frunze became a leading Bolshevik agitator and later commanded troops that
crushed anti-Communist resistance in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Ten
months after Frunze replaced Trotsky as commissar of war in 1925, Stalin's
doctors announced that he was ill and required an urgent operation. His own
doctors protested, but to no avail, and he died on the operating table.
There is no reference to this at the Frunze Museum.

After having apparently ordered Frunze's murder, Stalin eulogized him as a
hero. His greatest tribute was changing the name of Frunze's native city,
Pishpek, to Frunze. The new government changed it back to a form of its
traditional name after coming to power in 1991.

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