April has been a big month for birthdays in the Despot Diary. The other week, North Koreans showed the world just how much they cared about their dead leader Kim Il Sung's 100th "birthday" by launching a mighty rocket made out of melted-down children's toys into the sea, while last Friday it was Hitler's birthday. I don't know how many people celebrated that, but I'd guess it was more than turned up to that rave they had for Joseph Kony. RIP, J-Ko!
Sunday was another big anniversary, that of OG communist revolutionary maniac and style icon for everyone from Sean Connery to Krang, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Seeing as I was in Moscow for the weekend, I figured a trip down to Red Square to toast his embalmed body whilst cheering: “May the best of your past be the worst of your future!” would be a great idea. Then obviously, because this is Russia, things got really weird.
It all started innocuously enough. There was no special opening of Lenin's tomb – just some extra red wreaths laid out by the true believers, a couple of tourists attempting ironic poses to amuse their pig-brothers at the next tech hub meet back in San Fran, and a woman who thought the doorstep of the grave of a deluded dictator would be a great place to take a picture with her newborn baby.
Apart from a few old timers walking around with a Soviet flag attached to a fishing rod, nothing suggested that Lenin was due for a cultural reboot – a la vinyl, Del Boy, the Circle & District Line, Tamagotchis and Danish knitwear – any time soon. We stepped away from the tomb back into the sad reality of a globalised market society, where we mingled facelessly and forlornly in the crowd of Spidermans, Smurfs and camp foxes.
But then, just as we were about to give up and go to McDonald's…
FATHER!!! IS IT REALLY YOU!??!?!
No, it wasn't another dream. It was bloody Stalin. Joseph Stalin. The Man of Steel! Koba The Dread himself!
Hey Stalin! Nice to meet you, aren't you dead? I swear I read somewhere that Khrushchev and Beria found you spasming violently on the floor and frothing at the mouth in 1953 but decided not to call a doctor because you were a bit of a fucker.
"No, actually I am alive and well, in fact, I am feeling better today than I ever have done."
Wow! Do you know it's Lenin's birthday today? I think I've seen him wandering around here somewhere. Do you want to come and buy him a cake with us?
"For my time."
That seems extortion… oh no wait, that's like, ten pounds. You're hired. That's really communist of you, BTW.
Stalin, thrilled by our company and money, walked us to a "lovely little patisserie" he knew just around the corner to pick something nice for Lenin's special day. I asked him if we could pick up something on the way for Brezhnev, who was also hanging out nearby. Stalin wasn't having any of it, though. "Nah, Brezhnev is a dick. He only cares about pussy," which I understood later when I got back to a country with Google.
Stalin marched through the food court with single-minded determination. To see him trounce past the Pringles stand without so much as a cursory glance finally revealed to me how one man could be so simultaneously cruel yet, in the moments that really mattered, so deeply heroic.
"Here we are. These are the best cakes from here to Sakhalin. As I always say, gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union, but gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs. Let us proudly present Comrade Lenin with a cake to suit his character on this special day, so that history may be kind to us all as we intend to write it."
Having picked out a creamy beauty, we headed for the checkout.
Despite once ruling over 100 million Russians, Stalin's blagging rights didn't get him far when he tried to queue jump in front of this Maserati-driving New Russian with his sexy younger girlfriend.
Furious, he started muttering all kinds of stuff under his breath about death solving all problems and his ideas for a new gulag on the outskirts of Moscow on a plot of land next to the recently opened Ikea.
But luckily the queue started moving and he perked up again, after remembering that today was supposed to be a happy day.
Uh-oh, awkward! Just as we were leaving the food court, Lenin totally ruined our surprise by appearing out of nowhere, absolutely wasted!
Stalin looked at us nervously whilst whispering to his mentor, who was struggling to walk in a straight line. "Christ Vlad, what are you doing here? You're fucking pissed again… fuck… look, go sit in your chair, please. I've been trying to plan something nice for you and I don't want you to fuck it up, OK?"
Lenin, reeking of booze, was soon back in his chair drunkenly pontificating on the finer points of the workers' utopia to the only person who would listen to him, a cardboard cutout of Vladimir Putin. I guess Stalin had tipped him off, because we had to pay him 500 roubles to play along, too, meaning that essentially we were paying two poor, drunken strangers to pretend to like each other. What a few minutes ago had seemed like a funny little role-play was suddenly getting a bit depressing.
But Jo was a pro. While Lenin lolled around in his chair spitting on himself, Stalin was really earning his corn.
"Ah Lenin, my dear friend Lenin, it is I, Stalin, and I've brought you a cake on your birthday."
Lenin just parred him completely, waving at nothing and failing to make eye contact.
"Here, here, it is your birthday, maybe you'd like to say some words for your dear friend Stalin, yes?"
This was the worst bit. Drunk Lenin started bleating in this kind of Russian drawl that was half speech/ half cry. It sounded like he was saying something like: "Stalin is only doing this because he has to." A crowd started to gather.
Eventually we got Lenin to sit still long enough to pose for this photo. Which is actually pretty great, I'm sure you'll agree.
We took a higher vantage point to reflect on what had just happened. Meanwhile Stalin, who'd assumed we'd left him for good, got back to the daily grind of waving at strangers.
Whilst we were talking, though, we noticed that Lenin was getting very agitated. We also noticed that his recently acquired birthday cake was nowhere to be seen.
That randy dog Stalin was using the cake that WE had bought for LENIN (yep, another 249 roubles) to chirps a couple of MILFs into coming back to his dacha for some spring cleaning.
Lenin had also noticed, which was unfortunate, because the next picture is one of the most depressing I've ever seen:
Look. It's the first leader of the Communist Empire, crying on his own because someone has stolen his birthday cake.
Then the girls ran off with the cake. What are they, their pimps?
We went back to check on Lenin an hour later. Stalin had disappeared and Vlad seemed to have completely forgotten us, but at least order had been restored.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_hoban
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