The Lenin and Frunze Museums in Bishkek
Many Soviet Republic capitals had a local Branch of the Central Lenin Museum. The former Lenin Museum in Bishkek was mostly left unchanged since Soviet times and is a must see attraction in the Kyrgyz capital. Another great Soviet museum is dedicated to Mikhail Frunze, a Bolshevik leader who was born in Bishkek and after who the city was named during Soviet times.
Comtourist stayed two days in Bishkek as part of our Central Asia tour in 2009, the former Lenin museum and the Frunze Museum were topping our list of places that we wanted to visit in the Kyrgyz capital. We managed to visit both and were certainly not disappointed, these museums bring the visitor right back to the Soviet Union. Both museums are must see attractions when visiting Bishkek and even a reason to make a day trip to the Kyrgyz capital when staying in nearby Almaty.
The former Lenin Museum
Ala Too Square
Tue - Sun from 10:00 - 15:00
About the Museum
The former Lenin Museum, now National Museum is located on Ala Too Square, the main square of Bishkek. Lenin used to stand on the square in front of the museum bud is now removed to little park behind the museum. The museum exists of three levels, each with a different theme. The first level is used for temporary exhibitions, the second level is dedicated to Lenin and the Soviet achievements in the Kyrgyz SSR and the third level tells the history of the Kirghiz people.
The building probably dates to the 1970s and is a prime example of Soviet architecture were no costs are spared to impress the visitor. The central staircase is an impressive part of the structure with a large Lenin sculpture and an impressive ornament hanging on the top ceiling. We spend most of our time on the second level of the Museum where the revolutionary history of the USSR is depicted by large bronze sculptures and the later history of the Soviet Union is glorified by ceiling paintings.
The Soviet revolution in bronze sculptures
More than a dozen large bronze sculptures tell the story of the Russian revolution and the birth of the Soviet nation. The sculptures are very well made and grand in scale, they must have been produced by a great Soviet artist. The story begins with a sculpture of farmers and workers toiling as slaves on the fields and in the mines. The next sculpture shows Marx and Engels the founders of the communist movement who will bring salvation to the enslaved Russian people. Russian soldiers suffer in the trenches of the Eastern Front while their Tsarist officers shoot those who don't want to fight.
Following images show the birth of the revolution when unarmed protestors are shot during Bloody Sunday in Petrograd and sailors start muting on Battleship Potemkin. Armed revolutionaries storm the Winter Palace and arrest the provisional government.
Next Lenin decides to travel back to Russia and leas the revolutionary forces, he addressed the crowd and the revolution is being won. The last scenes depict happy workers who are now free and working for the progress of the people rather than for their Tsarist masters. Multiple further senses are dedicated to glorifying Lenin's role during the revolution.
Where the bronze sculptures tell the story of the revolution, is the ceiling painted with the history of Soviet Kyrgyzstan and the post war history of the USSR. The story begins with the Kyrgyz nomads who break up their yurts and become farmers using tractors and other modern technology.
Good times come to an end and World War II or the Great Patriotic War as the Russian call it breaks out, the Red Army fights the Germans who are depicted as the devil riding a giant beat. The horrors of the concentration camps are included in the paintings about World War II.
The Red Army is victorious and defeats the Nazi beast, scenes of celebration erupt with flowers balloons and fireworks. Famous monuments are shown including the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue and the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park Berlin.
The Nazi's have been defeated but a new fascist enemy has emerged, the United States are now threatening world peace with their nuclear weapons programme and gun ho president Ronald Reagan flying on a Pershing missile ignoring people from all over the world who demonstrate against the USA and for peace.
The Soviet people are determined to make communism success despite the thread from the USA and other war mongers. A Cosmonaut reaches for the sky and Soviet people from all republics come together as one overlooked and protected by Mother Russia.
Local branches of the Central Lenin Museum usually show items that tie Lenin to the Soviet republic or capital of the Museum. Lenin never visited Kyrgyzstan, so the corner dedicated to him is rather small compared to the rest of the museum. The main pieces are a bust of Lenin, a calendar, some documnets and his written works.
History of Kyrgyzstan
Our main interest in was for the Soviet section of the Historical Museum, (local) tourist guides and websites mainly focus on Kyrgyz history exhibition, found on the third floor of the museum. The Kyrgyz are one of the oldest nomad people and many exhibits tell about nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan. A large part of the collection displays ethnographic objects of late 19th and early 20th centuries, including national costumes, traditional women's jewellery and horse harnesses. The first item visitors will see on the third floor is a nomad Yurt that is still used in many places in Kyrgyzstan.
Other branches of the Central Lenin Museum
The former Lenin Museum, now national museum of Kyrgyzstan is probably the best preserved Lenin Museum outside Russia. Most famous is the Central Lenin Museum itself near Red Square in Moscow. Other former Soviet countries have closed their Lenin museum or changed the exposition to the new political reality. The former Lenin museum in Kiev, built at the end of the 1970s is now named the Ukrainian house and used for conferences and exhibitions. The Lenin Museum in Baku, Azerbaijan is now a carpet museum displaying rare carpets made in Azerbaijan.
Lenin's palace in Almaty Kazakhstan is now out of use, a building to house Lenin Museum was also being constructed in the 1980s but changed into the Palace of the President after the collapse of the USSR. The Lenin Museum in Tashkent Uzbekistan is still a museum in Soviet style, but now dedicated to the Uzbek dictator Karimov. The Lenin museum in Tbilisi Georgia is now being renovated an reconstructed to become a hotel. Other former Soviet cities that had a branch of Lenin Museum were Leningrad, Lvov and Ulianovsk.
The Frunze Memorial Museum
Tue - Fri 09:00 - 17:00, Sat - Sun 09:00 - 16:00
About the Museum
The city of Bishkek was named after Frunze for over seventy years during the Soviet period. Mikhail Frunze was born in Bishkek in 1885 and was one of the most important Bolshevik leaders taking part in the revolution. Frunze's alleged birth house was conserved as a museum in 1925. A concrete structure was built around it later, housing an exhibition about his life and the history of the Bolshevik Revolution in Central Asia. The museum can be found on Frunze avenue in the City Centre close to Ala Too Square.
The highlight of the Museum is the cottage where Mikhail Frunze lived as a boy. Frunze died of a chloroform overdose during medical treatment in 1925, many historians believe that his dead was ordered by Stalin who saw Frunze as a potential rival. He was declared a revolutionary hero and his birth house was turned in a museum shortly after his dead. The current museum building was constructed around the birth house in 1967. The house is still regarded as a shrine by the museum guards, all our steps in the house were closely monitored and we were allowed to make only two photographs after a lot of diplomacy with the old lady.
The general exposition is laid out over two floors, we were not allowed to make photos on the second floor, it was unclear why. Museum exhibits include items that belonged to Frunze like his furniture, books and tableware. Other items relate to Frunze's role in the Russian Revolution where he was an important military commander. Paintings depict his heroics in war and Frunze together with other leaders like Lenin. All texts are in Kyrgyz and Russian and no English speaking guides were available during our visit.
It is the Soviet atmosphere that make the Frunze Museum and former Lenin Museum worthwhile visiting more than anything else. The old ladies overlooking the museum guests, the 1970s interiors and the ever present Soviet ideology make a visit to these museums an exciting experience. Do visit these museums when you have the change, before they will be renovated or closed due to lack of funds like many other Soviet museums. Bishkek is well worth a visit for history fans in any case, the city is Soviet showcase were little has changed since the end of the USSR, Lenin and Frunze monuments can still be foun din the city centre. So go there quickly before the country decides to break with itys Soviet past and starts destroying it's Soviet heritage like most other former Soviet countries did.