20 May 2008

V.I. still overshadows Manas in history museum

“Lenin must have been Kyrgyz,” I whispered to a friend as we walked through the Kyrgyz national history museum in downtown Bishkek earlier today. Ol’ V.I. was represented in life-sized bronze sculptures, on ceiling murals, wall tapestries, and even ceramic vases. The museum has many more references to Lenin and Soviet history than to Manas, the legendary hero and namesake of the Kyrgyz nationalist epic. Another incongruity, I thought, in this Central Asian republic that achieved nationhood not through popular struggle but as a result of the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

This visit to the museum, about 10 days before I depart the country, was much like my first, shortly after I arrived here in August 2006: I strained my neck marveling at image after historical image, like the Red Army call to battle above, on the aging ceiling murals.

Outside, children and young people were enjoying the spray from the water fountains in the vast concrete slab of Ala Tau Square, which baked under unseasonably warm temperatures.