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.”


Paris official seeks to outlaw Airbnb rentals in city center

Updated 06 September 2018
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Paris official seeks to outlaw Airbnb rentals in city center

  • With some 60,000 apartments on offer in the city, Paris is the biggest market for Airbnb
  • The administration of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has already taken action against Airbnb and others

PARIS: The Paris city council member in charge of housing said Thursday that he would propose outlawing home rentals via Airbnb and other websites in the city center, accusing the service of forcing residents out of the French capital.
Ian Brossat said that he would also seek to prohibit the purchase of secondary residences in Paris, saying such measures were necessary to keep the city from becoming an “open-air museum.”
“One residence out of every four no longer houses Parisians,” said Brossat, who is expected to head the Communist party list for European Parliament elections next year.
With some 60,000 apartments on offer in the city, Paris is the biggest market for Airbnb, which like other home-sharing platforms has come under increasing pressure from cities which claim it drives up rents for locals.
“Do we want Paris to be a city which the middle classes can afford, or do we want it to be a playground for Saudi or American billionaires?” he said.
Brossat has had Airbnb and its rivals in his sights for years, and recently published a book assailing the US giant titled “Airbnb, or the Uberised City.”
He wants to forbid any short-term tourist rentals of entire apartments in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Arrondissements of Paris, home to some of the world’s most popular sites including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Louvre museum.
“If we don’t do anything, there won’t be any more locals: Like on the Ile Saint-Louis, we’ll end up with a drop in the number of residents and food shops turned into clothing or souvenir stores,” he said, referring to the Seine island in the shadow of the Notre-Dame cathedral.
“We’ll be living in an open-air museum,” he added.
Brossat hopes the measures will be included in a law aimed at overhauling France’s real estate laws to be debated this fall.
The administration of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has already taken action against Airbnb and others, requiring homeowners to register with the city and limiting the number of rentals to 120 nights a year.
Last month the city said the total amount of fines levied against home rental platforms rose to €1.38 million ($1.60 million) from January to August 15, compared with €1.3 million for 2017 as a whole.
Its crackdown echoes those in other hot tourist destinations including Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin.
Last month Airbnb sued the city of New York after it passed a law forcing home-sharing platforms to disclose data about their hosts, calling it a campaign “funded by the city’s powerful hotel lobby.”