Given my limited blogging on this page for some time, you could easily be mistaken for thinking I have not been travelling much but on the contrary I pretty much haven’t stopped travelling for the past year! I just lost the drive to blog about it!
Don’t worry I am still going to do the odd post for unique and interesting things I see out there. I mostly just focus on my aviation blog these days though, please check it out over at Aces Flying High – aviation related travel is truly my major passion!
Since November 2016 I have travelled in Ireland, Northern Ireland (UK), Spain, Andorra, Gibraltar (UK), Morocco, Portugal, the USA, Australia, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Moldova, the little Moldovan breakaway “country” of Transnistria (only Transnistrian’s officially recognize it as a country but it has its own government, border control, army, currency etc.!), Belarus, Norway and Sweden ($candinavia – yikes!). Right now I am back in Australia to spend the Christmas and New Year period with my family.
Most recently I was mainly travelling in the Wild Wild East of Europe (Ukraine, Moldova, Transnistria, Belarus plus the not so wild but excellent Poland) with my friend and fellow intrepid traveller, Jessie (check out her fun and quirky blog The Wandering Kiwi). After our travels and misadventures in the Balkans in 2015, she surprisingly agreed to walk down yet another dodgy road with me and once again to discover the path less travelled, leading to somewhat worrisome encounters with border guards, soldiers, state police and more (including near arrest for stumbling into a no go military zone!) – all’s well that ends well though (we have a lot of stories and in jokes to remember that will only ever be funny to us)!
Something we decided to do on this journey was locate statues, monuments and the like dedicated to the glory of the former Soviet Union and in particular one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin (1870 – 1924). We both have a keen interest in the past and especially Soviet times, including Lenin who came from exile to lead the Russian Bolshevik October Revolution in 1917 and establish Soviet Russia and then the Soviet Union which he lead from 1917 until his death in 1924.
Yes the Soviets could be cruel (Lenin was not exempt from this), corrupt and ultimately were a failed regime but also they had great military success at a huge cost of life in what they call the Great Patriotic War (World War Two), lead the Space Race for a time and had many great historical figures and scientific achievements which they were proud to celebrate in these impressive monuments. Many of these monuments were obviously seen as a symbol of oppression outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union though.
Now in the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Estonia – forcibly part of the Soviet Union) and former Warsaw Pact nations outside of the Soviet Union- once made up of Bulgaria, the former Czechoslovakia and East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania it is hard to find anything but war memorials and an occasional Cosmonaut monument as they all went through a de-communisation period when they broke free of Soviet rule in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. This meant a widespread celebration of destroying statues of former communist leaders became widespread(some can still be found in museums).
Understandably the Soviet reign and totalitarian rule was a chilling and oppressive part of their history and they wanted to be free of the memory. Despite the history behind them, finding these monuments today or where they once stood, can make for a quirky but interesting journey!
Czech Republic – No Lenin Here!
Ukraine – Seek Lenin and You Shall Find
Following its dire troubles with Russia over the annexation of Crimea and pro-Russian conflict and unrest in the Donbass region since 2014, Ukraine recently went through the same process of de-communisation. In April 2015 laws were introduced that outlawed communist symbols in Ukraine, leading to the mandatory removal in 2016 of communist monuments excluding those dedicated to the Great Patriotic War, which obviously involved and impacted greatly Ukraine and her people on more than a political level. They also renamed public places, streets etc. that were named after communist leaders and related themes.
The Ukraine government released figures stating that as of December 2016, Ukraine had renamed 987 cities and villages, plus 51,493 streets and removed 2,389 monuments of communist leaders and important figures including 1,320 monuments to Lenin alone! I can tell you they have been very thorough but there are some exceptions in museums and even in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where time has literally stood still since the tragic explosion at Nuclear Reactor No. 4 changed the world on April 26th, 1986. Sadly we ran out of time to see the Lenin statue that was turned into Darth Vader in a factory courtyard on the outskirts of Odessa!
Whilst walking through the town of Chernobyl we were shocked to see an all too distinctive looking statue off in the distance. I knew immediately that it was Lenin, a rarity in Ukraine, but here within the exclusion zone, most things remain the same, as a monument to the past and the tragic events of April 1986, even Lenin!
In Moldova (especially Transnistria) and Belarus though, Lenin monuments and even some for Stalin and Karl Marx can be found here and there. De-communisation is currently not part of their agenda. In my next post I will show you what we discovered in Moldova.