It’s a giant mask of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, cast in pure copper. It’s about 30″ tall, and weighs about 45 lbs. It came from a major government building in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, probably an important one considering the size, and would have been on prominent display, but unfortunately, I don’t know which one. I hope to someday find a picture of it somewhere. It’s definitely not unique, they made quite a few of these, but I’m not sure how many of them are still around, and made it outside of the former USSR.
In 1991, as the USSR was disintegrating before our eyes, the people inside found themselves suddenly less enamored of their formerly mandatory heros/leaders/overlords, like Stalin, and Lenin. That goes double for the people who were never Russian to begin with, like Lithuanians. You apply decades of brutal oppression to tenderize, then stuff your populace to the gills with propaganda about your awesome hero/leader/tyrant like a goose on a pate farm. Marinate in poverty and resentment, then toss ’em in a power vacuum as the despotic government collapses, bring to a gentle boil, and BAM! Some crazy shit happens.
One of the first things people do is start tearing down monuments to the motherfuckers who oppressed them. Not just because “Hey, fuck those guys”, but also because they’re not getting paid anymore, and scrap metal is worth pretty decent money, His Copperness is no exception. Most of the things this size would have been more likely to have been scrapped. Fortunately, this little baby made its way into my hands instead. It cost me almost $500, but I think it was worth it, as a semi-unique, certainly unusual piece of history. It’s a symbol of the The Evil Empire’s defeat. It’s half history, half war trophy. Communism went broke, Capitalism swept in, bought the joint for pennies on the dollar, kept what they wanted, and sold the shit that goes bang to third world countries who spent the next 20 years killing each other with it. It’s a good thing I don’t have room in my garage for a fighter jet. Don’t think I haven’t had my eye on that 1/4 scale remote control B-25 Bomber that’s been on Craigslist for 6 months though.
I was in my last year of high school when the USSR collapsed. I followed the news closely, but I didn’t really have the same appreciation for what was really going on as I do now. I grew up in the Reagan Years, the Evil Empire, Star Wars, “Whatevah! I’ll kill us all! I’ll do what I want!” days. It wasn’t quite Cuban Missile Crisis kinda paranoia, but they were definitely The Bad Guys. So, when shit started going down, my feelings were basically “America, Fuck Yeah! We win! Suck it, Kruschev! Ok, you get Democracy now, yay! Good for you guys, lets be friends! We can rebuild you, make you stronger, better, faster! Umm, what’s gonna happen with all your nukes now? Ohh……….this is more complicated than I thought.”
The guy I got it from had it shipped to him years and years ago from Lithuania, and then for some bizarre reason, never opened it. It was still packaged exactly like it was shipped, return address in Vilnius, and everything. He insisted that we open it up right there, because he’d never actually seen it, and wanted a picture of it. He said he had been saving it for some kind of special occasion. I have no idea what sort of special occasion would warrant keeping a giant copper Lenin head under wraps for a decade, but I guess some people are weird like that. I actually kept the packaging because it had the shipping info from its place of origin, but it was mistaken for trash, and thrown away. 😦
This is totally unrelated, but the guy who sold me this is a professional writer/photographer, who’s specialty is WWII German and Soviet war photography. I naturally find this fascinating, so he proceeds to whip out the ol’ photo albums, only these ones don’t suck at all. They’re 100% filled with original WWII photographs, mostly by soldiers, both in and out of battle. There were photos of Nikita Kruschev as a pall bearer(in the front, left side). There was a photo with 6 makeshift graves, with stick-crosses on top, British army helmets resting on the crosses. Written on the back of the photograph, in German, it said “The first 6 Tommies to die.” Fuuuuuuuck. It had been taken in Dunkirk, presumably shortly after the allied armies fled across the Channel.
There was a picture of a German, pointing a rifle, bayonet attached, at a Soviet soldier, who was lying in a ditch, holding one arm up in complete surrender, as if to block the bayonet. He was quite obviously fucking terrified. The weird thing is that there was someone standing behind all this like “OOOH, duuuude. Go over there and make like you’re gonna stab that commie in the face. I’m gonna take a picture, and send it home to my wife!” There’s a fair chance that immediately after the picture was taken, they stabbed the guy in the face. If the situation had been reversed, it probably would have gone pretty much the same way, except the Soviet soldier probably would have skipped the camera, and gone straight to the face stabbing.
There were photographs of captured French army soldiers from Algeria, you know, black ones. He went on to tell me that Germans often didn’t take the black french soldiers prisoner. They were kind of afraid of them, because culturally they’d been fed scary stories about savage africans. Germany was never a major colonial power, so they didn’t have much direct prior experience with black people, unlike damned near everyone else in Europe, who all had colonies in Africa. So, they made them do “funny” stereotypical things, like pose with a knife between their teeth, crouching as if to attack from out of the bushes, or some other stereotypically “savage” pose. They’d have their buddy take pictures. Why, yes, it does sound familiar, doesn’t it? Sometimes they’d pose in the picture with them. Then they’d shoot them.
There was this one hilarious series of photographs from the USSR. The first one was Stalin, with 4 people in a room, standing behind a conference table. Then one of them fell out of favor, so they erased him from the photographs. Then another, so they erased him too. Eventually, all of them were erased, the picture was just Stalin, by himself, in a completely different place. Awesome.
Anyway, the reason he needed to sell His Copperness is so he could afford to buy more WWII photographs. If any of those pictures sounded fascinating, then apply the picture:word formula, and imagine thousands of them. He’s got a book and everything. The cover alone sells the book.
I’m gonna need to get me some of those for the collection, I’m sure I can make room for a “babies in nazi hats” section.