Aimo Minkkinen, director of world's only Lenin museum, studied in Moscow
By Eeva Eronen
"Although my whole life has been dominated by Lenin, I am still a year younger than this museum", notes Aimo Minkkinen, curator of the Lenin Museum in Tampere, as he presents the anniversary exhibition of the museum, which began on Monday, January 23rd.
The previous Friday was the 60th anniversary of the opening of the museum. Even though changes in the world have caused considerable upheavals for the museum and the number of visitors it attracts, the museum has remained an oddity.
When it opened in 1946, the museum, which is now the world's only Lenin museum, was at the time the only exhibition outside of the Soviet Union dedicated to the life of V.I. Lenin.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the exhibitions have gone beyond Lenin himself, to presenting other aspects of Finland's old eastern neighbour, and its history.
Minkkinen first confronted the thoughts of Lenin head-on when he came to study political science at the University of Tampere, which was considered a "red university", in the 1960s. The final stroke for his interest came when an exhibition was held marking the 100th anniversary of Lenins' birth. "Then Lenin started to come over me", Minkkinen says, recalling the year 1970.
Minkkinen thought that he should learn more about the "land of red haze", and so he left with his new bride to the University of Moscow for a year to study historical materialism.
"It ended up being a nine-year honeymoon in Moscow", Minkkinen smiles.
In Moscow, Lenin made a final impression on him, and before returning to Finland, he managed to write a doctoral thesis on Lenin's ideas on peaceful coexistence of states.
"In a way, Lenin has given me a job and a world view", Minkkinen concludes.
Minkkinen's career at the Lenin Museum began as a tour guide. It was a temporary job of just a few months in 1980. He got a fixed position a couple of years later, and he was given a permanent post as museum director in 1991.
The time was a difficult one, because Lenin museums were being closed down constantly in the wake of the downfall of the Soviet Union, and the number of tourists visiting the museum in Tampere collapsed, when the Soviet tourists stopped coming. Gradually visitors started coming back.
Although the museum in Tampere sought to steer clear of ideological indoctrination and the promotion of the cult of Lenin from the very beginning, not everyone has been able to swallow the idea of the museum. Even Minkkinen has had to endure death threats because of his job.
"My own attitude is that the museum gives people the possibility to ponder what good there may be in the ideological heritage of Lenin, especially now that we can see what has gone wrong in it", he ponders.
In addition, he emphasises that he is a staunch anti-Stalinist. "Stalin ruined all of the ideals of the October Revolution."
He adds that he keeps a distance to today's communists because they have not separated themselves from Stalinism clearly enough.
In spite of his social ponderings, Minkkinen has avoided involvement in politics. He says that it is enough for him that his wife is on the Tampere City Council.
Minkkinen is optimistic about the future of the museum, because new groups of visitors have found it, such as young Germans and Chinese tourists. In addition, he says that in the longer term, the more extensive reach of the capitalist market economy into society could get people to become more interested in alternative models of thinking.
"And Lenin could provide material for that kind of critical thinking."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 23.1.2006
Tampere Lenin Museum
EEVA ERONEN / Helsingin Sanomat