With a sardonic bemusement, this short documentary looks at the removal of statues of Lenin from Ukraine. In snippets throughout the film is interspersed footage of a séance taking place in the 80s Soviet Ukraine, where people sit very seriously around a makeshift ouija board and try to contact Lenin’s ghost.
Archival footage shows the erection of these statues, to the gaze of crowds of thousands, onlookers packing public squares to see, wrapped in red and pinned with badges, some holding up their own framed portraits of Lenin. While from this time and this place, there is the temptation to see it as entirely a product of Soviet authoritarianism, that obscures the genuine public emotion which brought many people to the streets, and led to hundreds of Lenin statues being erected across the country.
Similarly, contemporary scenes of their removal show crowds of people on the streets, people jockeying to see, desperate to get close. Only this time it is to stamp and break the iconographic monument. People are just as sincere in their rejection as they were in their embrace.
Lacking narration, editing makes the director’s point. While it would be easy to set the rise and fall of the statues as a rejoicing in the demise of Soviet hold over Ukraine, the film chooses to contrast the demolitions with archival images of crosses being pulled off churches, stars being pulled off synagogues, portraits of Christ being burned in the town square. It highlights a repetition of the need to erase the wrong thinking of the past, obliterate the mistakes of history, in a cycle which seems to just go round and round. Even in the shots of the Lenin statues coming down, you see swastikas spray-painted on the plinths, anarchist flags being flown alongside Ukrainian national flags, and it seems to ask, in the overthrow of the old ideology, what new one comes next?
Meanwhile the medium at the séance uses her upturned saucer on her sheet of paper with the letters spelt out in biro. She asks Lenin’s ghost if the country ever know peace, if its people will ever be free of hardship and suffering. Lenin spells back, “No”.