By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW, June 4 (Reuters) - The embalmed body of revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin should be moved from Red Square and buried as his family had wished, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said on Wednesday.
Lenin led the 1917 Bolshevik revolution to found the first Communist state, which lasted 74 years until Gorbachev presided over the break-up of the Soviet Union.
He died on Jan. 21, 1924 and despite the pleas of relatives, his body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum on Red Square in the shadow of the Kremlin walls. Lenin’s body is still on public display.
Opponents say the ghosts of the Soviet Union should be put to rest and that Lenin, an atheist known by his patronymic, Ilych, be given a proper burial.
"My view is as follows -- we should not be occupied right now with grave digging. But we will necessarily come to a time when the mausoleum will have lost its meaning and we will bury Ilych, give him up to the earth as his family had wanted," Gorbachev told reporters. "I think the time will come ... it will happen."
The fate of Lenin is an emotional question in modern Russia, where the Communists are the second biggest political party.
The Russian Orthodox Church has called for Lenin to be buried, but the Communist Party says the father of the Soviet Union should stay put.
Russia’s first post-Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin more than once spoke in favour of removing the mausoleum from Red square. But strong pro-Communist sentiment in the country prevented him from doing so. In the end, Yeltsin avoided taking a decision.
Vladimir Putin also fudged the issue, saying the question was emotive and hard to tackle, and his successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, has not yet made his position clear.
In Soviet times, revering the memory of Lenin was a Communist obligation. Communists still mark his April birthday.
After his death, Lenin’s brain was removed and studied by Soviet scientists, who tried to prove his revolutionary genius under a microscope.
Lenin’s opponents, who say he unleashed decades of turmoil and launched Russia on the path to destruction, say he is an inappropriate hero for post-communist Russia and that there is no place for the public display of corpses in modern society.
Gorbachev also called for the creation of a Russian memorial museum to remember the millions of people killed or sent to prison under Josef Stalin, whose embalmed body lay beside Lenin’s for eight years until 1961.
Russian historians estimate that 11-27 million people in the Soviet Union suffered from Stalin’s repression. But he is revered by many in Russia for beating Nazi Germany in World War II and building the USSR into a superpower.
Gorbachev criticised some attempts to glorify Stalin on state television and said a national memorial was needed to help Russian democracy develop.
"This is a very big question for our country, it affected millions and touched on almost every family, almost the whole country," he said. "We need to overcome the lack of historical memory, we need to strengthen democracy and freedom." (Editing by Janet Lawrence)