While waiting for a bus the other day in Helsinki’s Hakaniemi Square, I snapped this photo of a plaque on an apartment building. In English the plaque reads “V. I. Lenin lived here 1917.” There are similar plaques on a few other buildings in Helsinki, and there’s a Lenin Park. There’s also a restaurant I’ve eaten at a few times, Juttutupa, that boasts in its menu of serving Lenin. Such tributes are not as ubiquitous as the “George Washington Slept Here” markers up and down the east coast of the United States; and they have attracted their share of controversy. But nonetheless Lenin does have a presence in Helsinki, particularly in Kallio, a neighborhood with a strong working-class identity.
Growing up in the American public school system at the end of the Cold War, I was taught to treat anything smelling even faintly of Communism as suspect. Therefore it’s been an adjustment spending some time in a city that straddles east and west; that fought its own civil war, Whites vs. Reds; that has very complex yet close ties to Russia. Helsinki is much less a Russian city than it was at the turn of the 20th century, but in the center of Senate Square, the civic heart of Helsinki, there is a statue of Czar Alexander II and not a Finn:
A red brick Russian Orthodox cathedral shares the skyline with the white dome of the Lutheran national cathedral:
And according to Helsinki Urban Facts, Russian-speakers are the largest foreign language group in the city. The history taught to Helsinki schoolchildren is different than the history I was taught. I’m grateful for this chance to see a different perspective, not just in Helsinki but in Tampere and Tallinn. RIP, VIL.