What would Lenin say now?


Our journey from Tampere in Finland to Vilnius in Lithuania followed the journey of the Soviet Union, from the early plans for revolution to its grim consequences

Lenin first met Stalin in 1905 in the Tampere Workers’ Hall in Finland, the same building which now holds one of the world’s few remaining museums dedicated to the life of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov.

You see, the Finns have a reason to be grateful to Lenin as it was he who championed their cause for independence. At the time Finland was a province within the Russian empire and Lenin was a firebrand revolutionary plotting his next steps while staying in the relative safety of Finland. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Finland did indeed gain independence and throughout the 74 years of the USSR’s existence the two countries managed to maintain cordial, if occasionally tense, relations.

The Lenin Museum paints an image of Lenin as a family man, an idealist driven by a sense of destiny to create a fairer world. It’s easy to leave the museum feeling sad for a man whose dreams of a utopian society became bogged down in violence, paranoia and corruption. How did this man with a grand vision become the leader who signed the execution orders for the Russian Royal Family along with a large number of his political opponents?

Lenin Museum in Tampere - Lenin slept several times on this couch

Lenin Museum in Tampere – Lenin slept several times on this couch


After a brief stop in Helsinki, in which several prominent monuments remain to the 19th-century Russian Tsars, we headed over to the Baltic States. It was here that the ultimate consequences of Lenin’s revolution were clear to see.

Estonia’s Lameema National Park is a place of beauty: wild forests and a secluded coastline which attracts many visitors. That was certainly not the case during Estonia’s years as an unwilling member of the USSR, when a high barbed wire fence ran along the entire shore of the national park, preventing anyone from getting close to the sea in case they had the crazy idea of trying to escape to the other side of the Baltic Sea. Is that the revolutionary dream that Lenin had planned back in his days in Tampere?

Estonian coast

Estonian coast at Lahemaa – out of bounds for Estonians during Soviet times


In Latvia we made a stop on the west coast and paid a visit to Karosta, an important naval base in the latter years of the Russian Empire and, during the years of post-war Soviet occupation, home to the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Now Karosta is a run-down town, a set of dreary flats overlooking the ruins of former military buildings. We visited the Karosta Military Prison, where the Soviet Union’s misbehaving troops would be sent for a sharp dose of re-education. It’s a truly grim place where prisoners suffered terribly, especially so when you think that it was their own who were dishing it out to them. The field behind the prison where executions would take place is unspeakably sad. During a tour of the prison we visited the Commandant’s room – there’s a bust of Lenin beside a bookshelf bearing every one of his numerous works in both Russian and Latvian. Was this the world he’d spoken so passionately about during his years in Finland?

Karosta Military Prison

Karosta Military Prison


The worst was yet to come. In a solid building in the centre of Vilnius,  the former KGB headquarters are now open to the public as a museum. The upper part of the building is the Museum of Genocide Victims, which tells the story of Lithuania’s partisans and their wartime struggles against both Nazi and Soviet rule. But it is the basement however where the worst horrors are found. Here people were brought, tortured and in many cases executed by Soviet authorities for being considered enemies of the communist regime. The long line of cell doors, some chillingly fitted with padded doors and straitjackets attached to the walls, are hard enough to see; the room where the executions took place is unbearable. It’s particularly hard to reconcile that these are not horrors from the distant past, but events which took place in the lifetime of many of the city’s elderly residents.

Straitjacket in padded cell in basement of former KGB HQ, Vilnius

Straitjacket in padded cell in basement of former KGB HQ, Vilnius


Standing in the bright sunlight again in modern-day Vilnius, I can’t help but wonder: What Lenin would have thought back then in the Tampere Workers’ Hall in 1905, if he could have travelled into the future and along the same route as we’d followed? Would he have acted differently if he’d been given a glimpse of the way his revolution would turn out?


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