Once a shrine to Lenin, his birthplace city seeks a new identity

Above, a monument to the Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin at the Lenin Memorial museum in Ulyanovsk. Crowds are sparse these days at the world’s biggest Lenin museum in Russia’s city of Ulyanovsk, which has fences round it to protect visitors after several massive panels dropped off the facade. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2017
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Once a shrine to Lenin, his birthplace city seeks a new identity

ULYANOVSK, Russia: Crowds are sparse these days at the world’s biggest Lenin museum in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, which has fences round it to protect visitors after several massive panels dropped off its facade.
A giant topiary sign still spells “Lenin” near the white stone box of the Lenin Memorial Museum on the bank of the Volga River, but the former Soviet leader’s home city is in search of a new identity 100 years after the October Revolution.
The city of Simbirsk 700 kilometers southeast of Moscow, where Lenin was born and lived until he was 17, was renamed Ulyanovsk in his honor after his death in 1924.
It became a favorite for tour groups of Lenin lovers from socialist countries.
To communists, Lenin is still the best thing to happen to Ulyanovsk, and local 68-year-old communist activist Yevgeny Lytyakov says the city owes its growth and status to the fact that Lenin was born there.
“Before the revolution, Simbirsk was a nondescript little town,” he said.
But Lenin no longer resonates in the same way and there are now only a handful of visitors at the city’s showpiece museums.
“We call Ulyanovsk Lenin’s motherland, but all the same, the young generation has moved on,” admits Yelena Bespalova, head of research at the Lenin Motherland Reserve, the city’s second biggest Lenin museum.
In the red-carpeted halls of the Lenin Memorial Museum, which covers some 4,000 square meters, exhibits range from Lenin’s death mask to a giant map of the Soviet Union that lights up glowing red.
Contemporary touches include a huge photograph of President Vladimir Putin, who visited in 2002.
“Today practically the biggest (Lenin) museum that is left is ours, in his motherland,” says former director Valery Perfilov, 70, who still works there.
The museum was once lavishly funded by the Communist Party and had around 5,000 visitors a day, but after the breakup of the USSR “it all suddenly collapsed,” he recalls.
“We were left without any funding.”
“If in the Soviet period, Lenin was idolized, deified, in the 1990s he was demonized.”
Today the museum is financed by the regional culture ministry and the current director Lidiya Larina says the complex, including a concert hall, has half a million visitors a year, but admits it is “outdated.”
It is due for a makeover ahead of Lenin’s 150th birthday in 2020 according to Larina, who wants to bring in interactive displays as well as a better shop and cafe.
The museum is also shifting its focus from Lenin as a political figure to his childhood in Ulyanovsk, Larina said, as Lenin’s role as an ideologue in the Soviet era is now generally downplayed by officials.
A plaque on Lenin’s former school calls him “Vladimir Ulyanov, the head of the government of Soviet Russia and the USSR from 1917 to 1923.”
“There’s a certain number of people in power who according to their views would happily raze the whole memory of the October Revolution and Lenin,” complains communist Lytyakov.
“But society won’t let this happen.”
The Lenin Motherland Reserve museum, which has federal funding, has a different aim — to immerse visitors in the atmosphere of Simbirsk in Lenin’s day.
It is an open-air museum of colorful painted wooden buildings in the neighborhood where Lenin lived in various houses — his family moved constantly — including a fire station and a corner shop.
“The mission of our organization is to preserve this corner of old Simbirsk,” says deputy development director Oksana Solovei.
The complex has more than 200,000 visitors a year, mostly locals, she says.
“Unfortunately we don’t have as many foreign tourists as in the Soviet period.”
The museum also gives a darker picture, with an exhibition on 1917 documenting looting and robberies by freed criminals and ex-soldiers.
“It was very dangerous even to walk on the streets. In 1917 the curfew started at 6 pm,” says Bespalova.
The city markets its Lenin links as part of a “Red Circuit” for Chinese tourists to visit Soviet sites around Russia.
The city is also looking to other famous natives, including 19th-century novelist Ivan Goncharov, and to possibly end Lenin’s domination over its image.
Two 26-year-old designers from Ulyanovsk have created a range of funky postcards, magnets and mugs presenting what they call an “alternative view” of the city.
One postcard has the slogan “Ulyanovsk — motherland of talents” and cartoons of 20 figures including Goncharov — but Lenin is conspicuously absent, and the women say this is no accident.
“We have nothing against him — Vladimir Ilyich,” said designer Nataliya Chebarkova.
“But it’s nice to tell people that Ulyanovsk isn’t just Lenin and the USSR.”


On Thai island’s Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

Updated 17 August 2018
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On Thai island’s Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

  • Hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups
  • Hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans

KUALA LUMPUR: For the millions of sun seekers who head to Thailand’s resort island of Phuket each year in search of stunning beaches and clear waters, cutting down on waste may not be a top priority.
But the island’s hotel association is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic, tackling the garbage that washes up on its shores, and educating staff, local communities and tourists alike.
“Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics,” said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association and managing director of the Trisara resort.
“Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it’s going to get worse and worse,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Established in 2016 and with about 70 members — including all Phuket’s five-star hotels — the association has put tackling environmental issues high on its to-do list.
Last year the group surveyed members’ plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.
As part of this, three months ago the association’s hotels committed to phase out, or put plans in place to stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019.
About five years ago, Lark’s own resort with about 40 villas used to dump into landfill about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually. It has now switched to reusable glass bottles.
The hotel association also teamed up with the documentary makers of “A Plastic Ocean,” and now show an edited version with Thai subtitles for staff training.
Meanwhile hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups.
“The association is involved in good and inclusive community-based action, rather than just hotel general managers getting together for a drink,” Lark said.
Phuket, like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, has become a top holiday destination in Southeast Asia — and faces similar challenges.
Of a similar size to Singapore and at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, Phuket is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia and Australia.
With its white sandy beaches and infamous nightlife, Phuket attracts about 10 million visitors each year, media reports say, helping make the Thai tourism industry one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster economy.
Popular with holiday makers and retirees, Phuket — like many other Southeast Asian resorts — must contend with traffic congestion, poor water management and patchy waste collection services.
Despite these persistent problems, hotels in the region need to follow Phuket’s lead and step up action to cut their dependence on plastics, said Susan Ruffo, a managing director at the US-based non-profit group Ocean Conservancy.
Worldwide, between 8 million and 15 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, UN Environment says.
Five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — account for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into the seas, an Ocean Conservancy study found.
“As both creators and ‘victims’ of waste, the hotel industry has a lot to gain by making efforts to control their own waste and helping their guests do the same,” Ruffo said.
“We are seeing more and more resorts and chains start to take action, but there is a lot more to be done, particularly in the area of ensuring that hotel waste is properly collected and recycled,” she added.
Data on how much plastic is used by hotels and the hospitality industry is hard to find. But packaging accounts for up to 40 percent of an establishment’s waste stream, according to a 2011 study by The Travel Foundation, a UK-based charity.
Water bottles, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes and even food delivered by room service all tend to use throw-away plastics.
In the past, the hospitality industry has looked at how to use less water and energy, said Von Hernandez, global coordinator at the “Break Free From Plastic” movement in Manila.
Now hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans.
“A lot of hotels are doing good work around plastics,” adopting measures to eliminate or shrink their footprint, said Hernandez.
But hotels in Southeast Asia often have to contend with poor waste management and crumbling infrastructure.
“I’ve seen resorts in Bali that pay staff to rake the beach every morning to get rid of plastic, but then they either dig a hole, and bury it or burn it on the beach,” said Ruffo. “Those are not effective solutions, and can lead to other issues.”
Hotels should look at providing reusable water containers and refill stations, giving guests metal or bamboo drinking straws and bamboo toothbrushes, and replacing single-use soap and shampoo containers with refillable dispensers, experts said.
“Over time, this could actually lower their operational costs — it could give them savings,” said Hernandez. “It could help change mindsets of people, so that when they go back to their usual lives, they have a little bit of education.”
Back in Phuket, the hotel association is exploring ways to cut plastic waste further, and will host its first regional forum on environmental awareness next month.
The hope is that what the group has learned over the last two years can be implemented at other Southeast Asian resorts and across the wider community.
“If the 20,000 staff in our hotels go home and educate mum and dad about recycling or reusing, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Lark.