A crowd of about 300 people watched the Lenin statue be taken down from its podium on October 14th. The affair lasted from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and was mostly low-key.
According to a friend of mine, Christa Hasenkopf, there was only a handful of onlookers present until the end, when Ulaanbaatar mayor Bat-Uul gave a speech. She says the crowd was mostly made of middle-aged to older men, just standing around. As it was being taken down, four people threw shoes at the statue (a sign of great disrespect) and then one person waved good-bye as it was taken away.
Later this week, the statue of Vladimir Lenin that has been prominently peering down at passers-by off Ulaanbaatar’s central thoroughfare for nearly 60 years will be finding a new home.
According to a recent article published by Reuters, the remnant of Mongolia’s soviet days will be up for auction with the bidding starting at 400,000 togrog (less than $300).
[City Mayor] Bat-Uul said two companies had already expressed interest, including a tourist “ger” (yurt) camp outside Ulan Bator which already owns a statue of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
The newly elected mayor has been actively working to improve Ulaanbaatar. By August, only a month after he took office, Bat-Uul had implemented a series of traffic laws aimed at easing the flow on the heavily congested roads. As one of democracy’s loudest cheerleaders, the symbolism of removing Lenin’s statue seems to be of no small significance.
Bat-Uul said he was surprised the statue had survived as long as it had, given the millions who died in famines and mass executions under Soviet rule.
“We had a brutal communist regime in Mongolia too,” he noted. “We lost around 40,000 people in just two years during the 1930s. They were killed in cold blood. It was genocide.”
Four years ago, Bat-Uul was a key figure in the fate of a very different kind of statue. The ‘Beatles Statue’, as it is commonly called, was unveiled on October 9, 2008 as, yes, a tribute to the famous rock group, but also as a reminder of the country’s Soviet past.
Most foreigners and many younger Mongolians who see the statue are unaware of it’s symbolism. Many use it as a landmark and commonly refer to Tserenhand St., on which the statue resides, as “Beatles Street”.
But the Beatles Statue is actually quite symbolic. In a time when access to the foreign marketplace and Western culture was banned, the Beatles came to represent free society. I’m told by many Mongolians in their fifties that contraband such as ball point pens, jeans and Beatles albums were hot commodities that they would secretly trade.
The statue has two sides, separated by a brick wall. One one is a bronze image of the four singers as they appear on the cover of “Abbey Road”. On the other, is a statue of a young Mongolian playing guitar in a stairwell, reminiscent of the days when that was a common occurrence. There’s also a window on this side where a tiny whole has been drilled into the brick (although it was later filled in). This, I am told, is supposed to symbolize the youth peering into western society.
Honestly, I’m a little sad that the Lenin statue will no longer stand as one of Ulaanbaatar’s many remnants of history. Not because I’m a Lenin fan, but because I always liked that the city was full of statues from so many different era’s of the city’s past stood concurrently. The fact that it wasn’t torn down after the democratic revolution, like statues in almost every other formerly soviet country were, I thought was a testament to the Mongolians’ ability to move on. Their revolution was a peaceful one. Somehow allowing the Lenin statue to remain for all these years seemed to represent that.