When the minister Yuri Khariyakin told the Soviet parliament in 1989 that Vladimir Lenin had expressed a wish to be buried alongside his mother in St Petersburg and that his embalmed body should be removed from the Red Square mausoleum, he encountered incredulity and anger.
Lenin’s niece, Olga Ulyanova, even made a public statement to the effect that it was a bare-faced lie that her uncle had wanted to be interred with his mother.
Ever since the Soviet Union began to break apart there have been repeated attempts to put the founding father of Russian communism six feet under, but no political leader has yet dared to take the step many Russians regard as sacrilege.
So, Lenin lies to this day, looking more waxy with each passing year, in the constructivist red marble mausoleum in Moscow beneath the Kremlin’s walls, an object of curiosity for tourists whom humorless guards forbid from speaking above a whisper.
However, the return of Vladimir Putin for a third term as Russian president last month could finally pave the way for Lenin’s removal.
This week, Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky re-ignited the controversy when he told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that Lenin should be buried.
“A body should be interred,” Medinsky said.
“As [Lenin] was a senior public figure the funeral should happen with all fitting state rituals, distinctions and a military salute in a suitable place,” he said.
The famous mausoleum should stay, he said.
“It would be possible to turn it into a museum of Soviet history that would be very well visited and could have expensive tickets,” he said.
However, the comments created such a furor that Medinsky had to clarify his position.
“It remains exclusively my personal opinion as a citizen,” the minister wrote.
While some parts of society, including the Russian Orthodox Church, support the idea of a burial, others are vigorously opposed.
Communist Party First Secretary Gennady Zyuganov said in 2009: “Any attempt to vulgarize or re-write the Soviet period and diminish the memory of Lenin ... is an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Russian federation.”
However, an April poll suggested that 56 percent of Russians were in favor of removing the founding father’s corpse from his mausoleum, compared with 46 percent six years ago.