The Cost of Keeping Lenin Looking Like Lenin

Russia will spend nearly $200,000 this year to maintain the former Soviet leader's embalmed corpse.

A portrait of Vladimir Lenin at the Krasnoyarsk hydro-electric power station near the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk (Ilya Naymushin / Reuters)

Vladimir Lenin’s body is nearly 146 years old, but it doesn’t look a day over 53.

Russian scientists have kept the Soviet leader, whose embalmed body is on display in a mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square, carefully preserved since his death in 1924. This year, the Russian government will spend up to 13 million rubles of federal funds, or about $198,000, to maintain the corpse, according to a notice published Tuesday on the country’s procurement agency’s website. The agency says it has contracted a supplier of “biomedical work for the conservation of Vladimir Lenin’s body as it looked in life,” but did not provide a name for the supplier.

Russian scientists have spent 92 years keeping Lenin’s body in good shape, adding a fresh coat of embalming fluids every other year, according to Scientific American’s Jeremy Hsu, a weeks-long “process that involves submerging the body in separate solutions of glycerol solution baths, formaldehyde, potassium acetate, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid solution and acetic sodium.” Hsu described what’s still real and what’s not in a story last year:

To maintain the precise condition of Lenin's body, the staff must perform regular maintenance on the corpse and sometimes even replace parts with an excruciating attention to detail. Artificial eyelashes have taken the place of Lenin's original eyelashes, which were damaged during the initial embalming procedures. The lab had to deal with mold and wrinkles on certain parts of Lenin's body, especially in the early years. Researchers developed artificial skin patches when a piece of skin on Lenin's foot went missing in 1945. They resculpted Lenin's nose, face and other parts of the body to restore them to their original feel and appearance. A moldable material made of paraffin, glycerin and carotene has replaced much of the skin fat to maintain the original “landscape” of the skin.

Russian state-run polls show the majority of Russians believe Lenin’s body should be removed from display and buried. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Lenin should stay put, and likened the Soviet leader’s mausoleum to displays of relics of Orthodox saints in monasteries.

(h/t BBC)