Why is there a Lenin Museum in Tampere?

Why is there a Lenin Museum in Tampere?

The Lenin Museum might be small in size but its significance cannot be underestimated. It is not a mere coincidence that the museum was established in Tampere. The location is a landmark of an essential part of political history between Finland and the Soviet Union.

The story of the museum began in 1944 when the Continuation War ended. The signed peace treaty had a massive impact on Finnish political life both domestically and internationally. There was a significant change in the political climate. People seeking friendly Fenno-Soviet relations had previously been treated like criminals, after the treaty they received legal rights to enter the Finnish political arena. The USSR-Finland Society was founded to maintain friendly relations between the countries. At the same time, the Tampere branch of the Society made an initiative for establishing a Lenin Museum in Finland.

There was a plan to set up the museum in the Workers’ House of Tampere, in the same hall, where Lenin and Stalin met each other for the first time at a conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1905.

The idea about opening a Lenin Museum in Finland was a politically sensitive question. However, with support from the Allied Control Commission the proposal moved forward and turned into a detailed plan. The initiative received widespread support among politicians, including the Prime Minister J. K. Paasikivi, who considered improving the post-war relations an essential task. Supporting the initiative for the Lenin Museum was rational step on this path.

It is worth mentioning that the Workers’ Association in Tampere had a reluctant position toward the plans. The museum was designed to be built in a location where a lucrative billiards hall was operating. However, a modest notice was delivered to the Association, declaring that inability to fit the Lenin Museum into the Workers’ House would be considered ”a worldwide scandal”. Finland and the Soviet Union had only recently re-established diplomatic relations, and the nature of these relations was fragile. Opening a Lenin Museum in Finland was considered to be a gesture of goodwill toward the Soviet Union.

In the autumn of 1945, Johan Helo, the Chairman of the USSR-Finland Society and the Minister of Education in Finland, formed a delegation that was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity of presenting the plans about the Lenin Museum to Joseph Stalin. Stalin was delighted about the project, and even started to reminisce about his visit in Tampere in 1905. Endorsement from Stalin greatly increased the initiative’s prestige and significance. Establishing the Lenin Museum had become a politically vital project that thoroughly intertwined with the Fenno-Soviet relations.

The Lenin Museum through the decades

The opening of the museum took place on 20th of January in 1946, a day before the anniversary of Lenin’s death. The Lenin Museum of Tampere was the first of its kind outside the Soviet Union. Unlike other Lenin Museums it was not operated by a communist party.

The first years were a struggle for the museum. The rental expenses were high and the museum directors were known to have taken loans in order to keep the museum running. The Soviet Union provided material for the exhibitions but the financial aid was small-scale. The museum was mainly run by volunteers.

In the 1970’s the museum received more than 20 000 visits annually. In 1975 there were more visitors from the Soviet Union than Finland. In the 1980’s the museum went through financially very successful years that provided the resources for a renovation and for a new exhibition. The museum became a must-see destination for Soviet tourists, although most of the time the scheduled visit to the Lenin Museum might have been an offer not to refuse.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 which also lead to the closure of most of the Lenin Museums. When the Central Lenin Museum in Moscow was shut down in 1993 the Lenin Museum in Tampere became the only still operating Lenin Museum in the world. It continued to uphold and research the period of the Soviet era.

It is possible to get a grasp of the political significance of the museum by having a look at the list of Soviet leaders who visited the museum during the Cold War. The first prestigious event occurred in June 1957, when Prime Minister Bulganin, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gromyko and the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev, visited the museum. This was continued by a visit from the General Secretary of the CPSU, Leonid Brezhnev, in April 1960. During his visit to Finland, Mikhail Gorbachev attended the Kustaa Rovio Museum in Helsinki that was run by the Lenin Museum. There are only two leaders of the Soviet Union who have never visited the Lenin Museum in Tampere or one of its branches. It is also worth mentioning that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to have travelled into outer space, also paid the Lenin Museum a visit.

In the beginning of 2014 the Lenin Museum became a part of the Finnish Labour Museum Werstas. During 2015 and 2016 there was a complete renovation of the museum spaces and a new exhibition was opened in the summer of 2016. The exhibition still takes place in the same hall where Lenin and Stalin met each other for the first time in December 1905.