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Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

National Museum of Kyrgyzstan

Time capsule of a museum, in which the Soviet Union remains alive and kicking. 

Kyrgyzstan’s National Museum harbors numerous interesting exhibitions, ranging from excavation finds to fascinating ethnographical collections, partly housed in dusty cabinets. But for the few Western visitors that make it to Bishkek, the real draw is the weird Soviet memorabilia.

Lenin is omnipresent in the shrine-like room of the Kyrgyz Soviet Revolution on the upper floor, where his conterfeit – alongside Mikhail Frunze, Kyrgyzstan’s own leading communist – can be seen on porcelain vases and on traditional Kyrgyz rugs. Soviet flags adorn the ceiling and the walls of the hall, and the Hammer and Sickle symbol can be found anywhere.

Then there are the highly bizarre murals – rather unusual depictions of Soviet propaganda, since they were not created during the heyday of Soviet propaganda displays, but only shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The style is unique, since it forms a transition from typical Soviet propaganda to modern art. Arguably, the most grotesque mural depicts former US President Ronald Reagan, riding Dr. Strangelove-style on a Pershing, wearing a mask of a grinning skull, while being surrounded by people demanding “No more Hiroshimas“.

Additional bronze murals depict key events in communist and Soviet history, among others, Marx and Engels speaking to the people, Lenin inspiring the masses, the October Revolution and the burning tsarist palaces. Sooner or later, the Soviet pieces will likely be removed from the museum, but for now they still remain in place.

Know Before You Go

As of November 2015, the museum is undergoing a renovation, which may very well include painting over these amazing murals. No amount of begging or attempted bribery will gain one access. A giant Lenin statue dwells behind the museum however, if that's any consolation. Also, beware roaming dogs nearby... they do indeed bite.

  • Lonely Planet Central Asia; 4th Edition; July 2007