News today that anti-government protestors in Kiev, capital of the Ukraine and once one of the old Soviet Union’s most important cities, tore down a public statue of Vladimir Lenin and gave it the Berlin Wall treatment puts Seattle in an interesting spot. There’s a Lenin statue here and it remains pretty popular, even though it depicts the revolutionary terrorist who founded the Communist Party.
The Seattle Lenin sits in the Fremont section three blocks north of the Fremont Bridge. The 16-foot-high statue by Bulgarian sculptor Emil Venkov was rescued intact from Czechoslovakia after the fall of the U.S.S.R.’s Iron Curtain a quarter-century ago by a resident of the Seattle suburb of Issaquah who perceived art.
In contrast to other old statues (mainly behind the Iron Curtain) of Lenin, who fancied himself an educator and a philosopher and tried to play down that killing thing, the image in Fremont is pretty warlike. Lenin is surrounded by representations of raging flames and other accouterments of war. This means it’s probably a more accurate reflection of history.
But against all odds in a city full of public art, Lenin of Fremont has become something of a tourist attraction. Daily, dozens of folks pose for photos taken by traveling companions, some risking serious injury or death by backing into busy Fremont Place to get the money shot.
Upon becoming New To Seattle two years ago, I was told that this was the only public Lenin statue in the U.S. But an acquaintance of mine from college just pointed me to a similarly reclaimed-from-the-USSR statue on top of an apartment building in New York City’s East Village. So politically liberal Seattle–which just elected a professed socialist to the City Council–loses that great American distinction.
At first blush, it certainly was ironic to erect an image of such a man of violence in a Seattle neighborhood that more than most fancies itself the center of peaceful, counterculture inclinations, as witnessed by the yearly clothing-optional parade to greet summer. But then again, maybe not. As I have written here before, Fremont is named after John C. Frémont, a war criminal from California who nearly 150 years ago became the Republican Party’s first candidate for president. The common theme I see here is killer politician. Maybe birds of a feather, Chicken Kiev-genus.