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In chilly Moscow, a heated debate over burying Lenin's body

Lenin supporters gather in Moscow's Red Square on Friday, the 87th anniversary of the leader's death.

By Yonatan Pomrenze, NBC News

Red Square without Lenin? Hard to imagine. Like Trafalgar Square without Nelson. Or Times Square without the Naked Cowboy. But it’s an idea that’s floated every couple years – and it was proposed again yesterday, on the eve of the anniversary of Lenin’s death.

On Thursday, a deputy in Prime Minister Putin’s ruling United Russia party suggested removing Vladimir Lenin’s preserved body from the iconic mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square and finally burying him, 87 years after the leader's death. Vladimir Mendinski didn’t sugarcoat his language, referring to Lenin as an “extremely controversial political figure” and calling his Red Square burial an “absurd, pagan-necrophilic mission.”

The fighting words to Russia’s Communist Party didn’t keep a few hundred Lenin supporters from braving 10-degree weather to gather on Red Square today to lay flowers at the mausoleum.

“They want to falsify history,” said 63 year-old Lidiya Petrovna, when told of Mendinski’s comments. “They want to bury not just his body, but his ideas. We are here as Soviet citizens!” I reminded her that we are in Russia now, but she dismissed me. “I am Soviet. This isn’t my country.”

Anatoly Turenko, a 36-year-old Moscow Communist official, made it clear that his party was opposed to moving the body: “This is a decision for all Soviet nations to make together.”

For now, there is nothing for them to worry about: Media reports quoted the Kremlin press office saying they had no plans to move Lenin’s body. But it remains to be seen how much longer Lenin supporters can present a solid opposition. The average age of those gathered at Red Square today couldn’t have been under 65, and polls show a continuing decline of support amongst Russians to keeping Lenin in the mausoleum.

'It's the building that's so iconic'
Seeing Lenin’s body (or what is left of it – Mendinski claims that only 10 percent of what is left can actually be called Lenin’s body) is also a big draw for tourists. Five days a week, tourists line up to silently shuffle through the mausoleum and get a quick look at Lenin. Today’s anniversary events kept tourists from even getting near the mausoleum, but they still weighed in on the controversy.

“As long as the mausoleum stays, they can take the body,” said Simon Gay, a singer from the Westminster Abbey Choir, taking in Red Square before a performance. “It’s the building that’s so iconic.” As for how to settle the debate, Gay had a unique suggestion: “Maybe they can rotate a different body in there every week.”