Lenin’s on sale again: Life as a lookalike leader on Red Square

'Stalin' is a perfect partner for Instagram selfies. Prices for a photo with him are not fixed.

'Stalin' is a perfect partner for Instagram selfies. Prices for a photo with him are not fixed.

Maksim Blinov/RIA Novosti
Where can you shake hands with Lenin and try on the crown of the Russian tsar? It is not only locals and tourists who can be found strolling by the walls of the Moscow Kremlin, but also people impersonating political leaders from various eras – you can take photos with them or talk with them about the fate of the motherland.

At 10 a.m., the Alexander Garden near the walls of the Moscow Kremlin is full of tourists and locals hurrying about their business. But among them strolls a familiar-looking character – isn’t that Stalin himself? He is dressed in a white military jacket, has a black mustache and holds a pipe in his hand.

“Stalin” is a perfect partner for Instagram selfies. Prices for a photo with him are not fixed: Russians give 200 to 300 rubles ($3-4.5), but it will cost at least 500 rubles ($7) for foreign tourists, depending on their bargaining skills. There are a lot of people who want to take a photo with the Soviet leader, and the impersonator is quite satisfied with his income.

"Before that I served in the navy for 30 years, and now I have been working here for eight years already," says the actor dressed as Stalin, without giving his real name. "There are enough tourists. I can’t complain about life."

Stalin works in the Alexander Garden seven days a week. His daily routine is brightened by the ladies working nearby. These are Empress Catherine the Great and her two companions. A photo with Catherine alone is cheaper – 100 ($1.5) rubles, but if she poses together with Stalin, the price rises to 500 rubles ($7) and more.

 

 

The lookalikes are in high demand with tourists; Catherine and her companions coquettishly allow them kiss their hands, winking at passers-by.

Soham Samuel has come with his friends to Moscow for the first time from India in Mumbai and has been struck by the beauty of the Russian “empresses.”

“I already have a photo with the woman in blue [Catherine the Great – RBTH], but I want to take a picture with all of them," he says. "Russian girls are beautiful! I do not know who they are, but I like their outfits, they look like queens."

But Russian tourists prefer to take a photo with Stalin and Lenin. "My daughter is in Moscow for the first time," says Viktor from Cheboksary (400 miles east of Moscow). "We walked around Red Square and suddenly there was Lenin there! He looks just like him, complete with the cap and mustache!"

 

Lenin against Lenin, but for the tsar

Yes, to get a photo with Lenin by the Kremlin walls is simple as that. There is another Stalin sitting with Lenin on stools near the building of the Historical Museum on Red Square. They don’t need to walk around to lure tourists – they are assisted by a tout, who brings those wishing to take a picture to them.

Another Lenin is strolling around on his own 10 meters away. He did not get his Stalin. He is smiling and, for some reason, campaigning for sobriety in a loud voice: "Down with beer and tequila, Lenin drinks fruit juice!" he announces.

The actor says that he works for pleasure, so he can’t be seen near the Kremlin every day. He rehearses at the theater on weekdays.

"I have been in movies, and now play doubles at the theater. Lenin, of course. But I like to work on Manezhka [Manezhnaya Square]. People smile in response and can make jokes too. Some shake hands or just come up to me and chat,” he says.

This Lenin is also accompanied by a couple of unusual characters: Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov and his wife. They work together, but each of them is a private entrepreneur. All of them have a work permit, so the police do not obstruct them.

 

But the lookalikes live in a tough, competitive environment. The lonely Lenin and the Romanov couple have no great love for the two leaders sitting on stools. Once the feud even came to blows: In the summer of 2012, one of the Stalins noticed that his companion, Lenin, had begun to work for the second Stalin.

Discussing this betrayal over a mug of coffee, the first Stalin generously rewarded the defector by stabbing him three times in the back with his umbrella. Lenin kept his head and went to the police. A few days later, the leaders were reconciled, but law enforcement officers kept them under observation for some time.

Putin a rare sight these days

But it is Russian President Vladimir Putin who is especially in demand with tourists. “Putin” usually works on Nikolskaya Street in front of the GUM department store (next to Red Square). In the company of Ivan the Terrible and two Stalins, the man in black sunglasses and a business suit looks inconspicuous, but he’s the one tourists want a photo with.

This year, for some reason, Putin has not often been seen. His colleagues only shrug. "You understand that the president has a lot of things to do," says Ivan the Terrible. "Public service is a serious matter! I wouldn’t be hanging around either, if I were in power."

New heroes constantly arise near the Kremlin – Nicholas II, Brezhnev, there has even been a Barack Obama. However, they didn’t stick around too long. But Lenin and Stalin won't be out of work anytime soon. Just like Putin.

 

Read more: Monument of Vladimir Lenin at the Baikonur cosmodrome

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