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Capitalist Mongolia bids not so fond farewell to Bolshevik Lenin

By Michael Kohn

ULAN BATOR, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Brow furrowed, eyes glaringand one foot striding forward, the bronze statue of Bolshevikrevolutionary Vladimir Lenin at the heart of the Mongoliancapital of Ulan Bator was once a potent symbol of the reach ofthe Soviet Union.

Today the statue is neglected and discoloured, its plinth isdisintegrating and an itinerant street peddler uses the base todisplay second-hand textbooks. The young Mongolians who scurrypast in designer jeans and baseball caps are unlikely to miss itwhen it is auctioned and removed later this week.

The decision to part with the four-metre relic of Sovietpropaganda was made by the mayor of Ulan Bator, Bat-Uul Erdene,known as one of the "original 13 Democrats" who helped overthrowcommunism in a 1990 bloodless revolution.

"I think the Communists are big criminals not only to theoutside world, but in front of their own people. So I believe weshould take down this Lenin statue because it representsrepression," Bat-Uul, a founding member of Mongolia's DemocraticParty, told Reuters.

Bidding for the statue, erected 58 years ago, will start at400,000 tugrik ($287) and Bat-Uul said two companies had alreadyexpressed interest, including a tourist "ger" (yurt) campoutside Ulan Bator which already owns a statue of Sovietdictator Josef Stalin.

Bat-Uul said he was surprised the statue had survived aslong as it had, given the millions who died in famines and massexecutions under Soviet rule.

"We had a brutal communist regime in Mongolia too," henoted. "We lost around 40,000 people in just two years duringthe 1930s. They were killed in cold blood. It was genocide."

Thousands of Lenin statues were erected across the formerSoviet bloc after his death in 1921, but most were torn down,melted for scrap, or re-purposed as retro-Soviet decor in cafesand nightclubs following the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991.

The Lenin statue in Ulan Bator managed to survive, largelybecause many older Mongolians still revere the Russian leaderfor supporting Mongolia in its fight for independence in 1921.

"If Russia did not exist and Lenin did not help us, thenMongolia would not exist either," said 55-year-old ErdenebilegDavagdorj, a driver. "The Russians saved us in 1921 and thenagain during World War II when the Japanese invaded our country.We owe them a lot."

The economic changes that have convulsed Mongolia since 1991would already have had Lenin turning in his glass coffin.Mongolia is in the grip of a mining boom and dozens ofmultinational firms have descended on the country, bringingtheir capitalist practices with them.

New economic and political freedoms have also inspired arevival in the cult of Genghis Khan, banned during the Communistera, and statues of the 13th century warlord have been installedthroughout the country.

Bat-Uul said he hoped a new monument would eventuallyreplace Lenin, and some have already proposed a memorialdedicated to five people murdered in political violence in 2008.

Bat-Uul prefers a statue of former Mongolian Prime MinisterAmar, executed in 1941 in the Russian city of Omsk.

"He defied the Communists until the end and it cost him hislife. 'I know how you Communists are. You haven't helped us.Instead you just want to colonize us. I do not agree with this.'Those were his last words," he said.

(Editing by David Stanway and Nick Macfie)

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Keywords: MONGOLIA LENIN/