Statue of Lenin calmly erected in West Germany
The Black Lives Matter protests have seen controversial statues torn down in the US and Europe in recent weeks.
But Germany, with its Nazi and communist past, has already dealt with many of its troubling monuments to unpleasant historical figures by placing them in museums.
Then on Saturday a new divisive new statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was peacefully unveiled.
More than 30 years after the post-World War II communist experiment on German soil ended, the tiny Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) erected the offensive statue in the city of Gelsenkirchen.
The MLPD says it is the first such statue ever in former West Germany, decades after the eastern German Democratic Republic communist state and its deadly Berlin Wall and Stasi secret police collapsed.
“The time for monuments to racists, anti-Semites, fascists, anti-communists and other relics of the past has clearly passed,” said MLPD chair Gabi Fechtner in a statement.
By contrast, “Lenin was an ahead-of-his-time thinker of world-historical importance, an early fighter for freedom and democracy,” she argued.
Lenin was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people during the “Red Terror” between 1917 and 1922.
“Lenin stands for violence, repression, terrorism and horrific human suffering,” representatives from mainstream parties on the district council in Gelsenkirchen-West said in a resolution passed in early March.
The council “will not tolerate such an anti-democratic symbol in its district,” it added, urging “all legal means” be used to block its installation.
But the upper state court in Muenster later rejected the council’s attempt to halt the statue. The council had argued the statue would interfere with a historic building on the same site.
In decades of experience addressing the country’s Nazi and communist pasts, “things have always been done properly, it all seems very German” with official applications to local authorities and orderly dismantling of monuments, said Urte Evert, head of Berlin’s Spandau Citadel museum where many old statues are on display.
“We haven’t made so much progress with colonialism, something the USA, Britain and France too have been confronting for much longer,” Evert added.
While the United States, Britain and Belgium have seen statues of Christopher Columbus, slave trader Edward Colston and King Leopold II, brutal ruler of the Congo, attacked or removed, in Germany, only a handful of monuments have been splattered by paint.
For Evert, how these public objects are presented to the public could be a way for the country to reckon with its less glorious past.
Statues that are “overturned or provided with a plaque (to explain its past) can make it possible for a debate to take place in a public space.”