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A Revolutionary’s Revival: a Lenin Doppelgänger’s Adventures in the 21 Century

Vasiliy Popov spent a year in the company of a doppelgänger for Vladimir Lenin, trying to understand how he could live in today's Russia.

Sergey Solovyov didn’t know that he was Lenin until he was 48. He was born and raised in Moscow, received a university education, raised a family, had his own apartment and bought a car on credit. Once, after breaking his leg, he spent a month in hospital. When he came home, he stopped shaving and grew out his beard and then saw something familiar in the mirror, something from his childhood. Coming out of the bathroom, his wife screamed and his son burst with laughter.

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Sergey’s on his way to work. Five years ago he was offered this job by Viktor Cherkasov, a pensioner and retired MVD ensign who, to this day, has worked for six years as a double for Tsar Nicholas II. Being photographed by passers-by for a modest fee seemed like a fun way to spend a few evenings for Sergey. Turns out that a simple doppelganger-on-demand business can truly compete with the Mausoleum. Innumerable Chinese, a huge Middle-eastern family, and elderly couple from Texas, a group of Dutch students and even a few true-blue Muscovites can get some entertainment and, as a bonus, their picture on a soap dish or a mobile phone all for a hundred rubles.

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Sergey counts his daily earnings. About four thousand rubles for two people, not bad.

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Sergey and Viktor have worked together for five years. They had a normal work day – from 10:00 to 17:00 with a lunch break. Over the years their hobby went from an adventure to a profession, and they themselves became businessmen. Afew years ago, tired of police extortion, they registered as individual entrepreneurs with a specialization under “other entertainment services.” “We’re not bums and we want to work honestly, as tourist attractions, not just two morons in wacky costumes.”

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Sergey has worked and continues to work as an electrician in the auto industry. Six years ago, when he came to work with a new image, they didn’t recognize him at first and then asked him not to come to work again looking like that. Sergey ignored the wishes of his management, “I’m good at what I do, and how I look is my business alone.” Sergey’s coworkers are only happy byt the idea of drinking with a real-life Lenin.

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Along with Sergey and Viktor, there have been about ten different personages posing in the city center for a fee, among them were Brezhnev, Putin, Spider Man, Homer Simpson, and also another Lenin (Anatoly) paired with a Stalin (Latif). Anatoly, the oldest representative of the professional community, has worked since 1992 and remembers the days when you could take pictures with tourists right at the steps of the Mausoleum, but since then the FSO has “cleaned things up.”

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The latter-day businessmen were not a cause of joy for the authorities. Refusing to pay bribes, Sergey and Viktor began to spend half of their working time in police stations and courts, “They nearly threw us in the pen: illegal trading, illegal solicitation of photography services, and they even called us “stationary commercial objects.” At the same time, no one could clearly explain what we were doing wrong and what other documents we needed.”

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In July, 2011, Sergey, having spent 14 hours at the police station, was escorted to court and only then learned the reason for his detention, “My dress and behavior insulted the parishioners of the Iberian Mother of God church,” which was labelled disorderly conduct and carried a sentence up to fifteen days. Still at large, Viktor came to the court with a friend, “Uncle Yurij the lawyer,” a tour guide with a penchant for human rights activities. They were able to reschedule the hearing through joint efforts.

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In order to escape a second night in detention, Sergey feigned an attack of tachycardia and left the courtroom in an ambulance. While he was in the hospital a second hearing was held, in which the prosecution managed to call a single witness – a parishioner with hurt feelings. She easily gave up her entire testimony. First, the police took her in and then, in exchange for letting her out, they offered her a chance to sign a written statement against Lenin (Sergey).

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Sergey was acquitted as a result, and the acquittal was carried out in the Tver district court by judge Olga Borovkova (now Zatomskaya), who earned fame by repeatedly sentencing representatives of the Russian opposition to administrative arrests.

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Sometimes Sergey is invited to entertain guests at weddings and other events. Though he has little reason to be happy: nearly half of his earnings go to paying off fines, his health has declined, the management at work pressures him, his son laughs at him and his mother-in-law grumbles at him. But not every electrician can boast about his acquaintance with Kobzon and holidays at New Russians’ dachas.

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On summer weekends, Lenin and one of his former classmates go to a village outside of Moscow with a frozen chicken and two bottles of vodka on a “fishing” trip. And, with each kilometer passing, he turns more and more into Sergey, a regular representative of Moscow’s lower-middle class.

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Since February, 2012, Sergey has worked in tandem with a more natural historical companion – Stalin (Anatoly). Also, in March he scored an unexpected victory in a lawsuit against the Moscow authorities. The reply came from the general directorate of the Interior Ministry, “Your appeal has been considered. Police officers have been given an order to exclude further disruption of your activity, in accordance with Articles 11-13 of administrative authority, in photography in the central part of Moscow as a historical figure in the absence of offense in your actions.” In celebration, Lenin and Stalin have begun to ask for twice the price as before and now, instead of elementary struggle for survival, they’re leading themselves towards capitalist competition.

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Sergey at home. He’s tired.

Text and photos: Vasiliy Popov.

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