While a global row rages over the controversial pasts of historical figures immortalised as statues, on Saturday a divisive new monument to the former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin will be unveiled in Germany.
More than 30 years after the communist experiment on German soil that followed the second world war ended, the tiny Marxist-Leninist party of Germany (MLPD) will install Lenin’s likeness in the western city of Gelsenkirchen.
The MLPD says it is the first such statue ever to be erected on the territory of the former West Germany, decades after the eastern German Democratic Republic communist state collapsed.
“The time for monuments to racists, antisemites, fascists, anti-communists and other relics of the past has clearly passed,” said MLPD’s chair, Gabi Fechtner, in a statement.
“Lenin was an ahead-of-his-time thinker of world-historical importance, an early fighter for freedom and democracy,” she said.
Not everyone in Gelsenkirchen, a centre of the former industrial and mining powerhouse Ruhr region, has welcomed the 2.15 metre (7ft) likeness of the communist leader, which was made in the former Czechoslovakia in 1957.
“Lenin stands for violence, repression, terrorism and horrific human suffering,” representatives from mainstream parties on the Gelsenkirchen-West district council said in a resolution passed in early March.
The council “will not tolerate such an anti-democratic symbol in its district”, it added, urging that all legal means should be used to block its installation.
But later in March the upper state court in Münster rejected an argument that the statue would impact a historic building on the same site.
The MLPD has trumpeted interest in the statue from as far away as Russia, and is celebrating the unveiling with sausages and cake – while urging guests to maintain social distancing and wear nose and mouth coverings against coronavirus infection.
The worldwide Black Lives Matter movement has found some echo in Germany. Unknown people splattered red paint on a statue of Otto von Bismarck in Hamburg’s Altona district this week.
The “Iron Chancellor” behind Germany’s unification in 1871 is also known for hosting the Berlin Conference of 1884, which became a byword for the carving up of Africa between European colonial powers.
Berlin itself has been a hub of activism against public commemorations of colonialists, with much ire directed at street names honouring 19th-century figures in the so-called “African Quarter”.
But political decisions to rename roads named after figures like Adolf Lüderitz, a merchant who played a key role in colonising Namibia, or Carl Peters, a colonialist behind German expansion in eastern Africa, have met with resistance from locals.
Urte Evert, head of Berlin’s Spandau Citadel museum, where many old statues are on display, said that in decades of experience addressing the country’s Nazi and communist pasts, “things have always been done properly” with official applications to local authorities and orderly dismantling of monuments.
“We haven’t made so much progress with colonialism, something the USA, Britain and France too have been confronting for much longer,” Evert added.
While the US, Britain and Belgium have seen statues of Christopher Columbus, slave trader Edward Colston and King Leopold II, brutal ruler of the Congo, attacked or removed, in Germany, only a handful of monuments have been splattered by paint.
For Evert, how these objects are presented to the public could be a way for the country to reckon with its past.
Statues that are “overturned or provided with a plaque [to explain its past] can make it possible for a debate to take place in a public space,” she said.