MOSCOW: It’s a process described as “not a pretty sight” that involves the extraction of all the blood from a corpse.
But if Venezuela needs help embalming Hugo Chavez then Russia has expertise stretching back to Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. Authorities in Caracas announced last week that Chavez’s body would be embalmed “like Lenin,” whose mummified relics have been on public display in the Moscow Red Square mausoleum since the Bolshevik Revolution leader’s death in 1924.
It is not clear, however, whether Venezuela – which forged a close partnership with Vladimir Putin’s Russia under Chavez – has sought Russian specialists’ help or will do so in future.
Approached Monday by AFP, the Moscow laboratory in charge of Lenin’s body declined to give any official comment on the matter.
But a member of its team, Yuri Denisov-Nikolsky said that although no official request had been made so far by Caracas, the Russian specialists were ready to help if need be.
Another Russian specialist who helped preserve Lenin’s body in Soviet times told the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency Friday that “the Russian technologies for embalmment are absolutely first-rate.”
“We never disappoint our customers,” Denisov-Nikolsky said. But Venezuelan authorities might opt to use Cuban experts, he added, who embalmed the Argentinian president Juan Peron’s wife Eva in 1952.
Now called the Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, the laboratory owns the methodology that was used to embalm the bodies of a string of pro-Moscow leaders during and after the Cold War.
These included Bulgaria’s Communist leader Georgy Dimitrov (1949), the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1953), the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh (1969) and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung (1994).
After the death in 2011 of the latter’s son, Kim Jong Il, the Moscow institute specialist Pavel Fomenko, described the embalming procedure in detail.
“It is not a pretty sight,” he said in a rare interview to the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.
To begin with, a team of three to seven specialists “remove all internal organs, fill veins with a solution, and extract blood from tissues,” he said.
“The body is placed in a glass bathtub filled with the embalming solution, covered with a lid, and wrapped in a white cloth” as precise temperature and humidity conditions are maintained in the room, Fomenko said.
“Gradually, the solution replaces water in the body’s cells. Embalming lasts for some six months.”
To ensure decadeslong preservation, the process requires constant upkeep, including invariable temperature and humidity regimes.
Lenin’s body is also protected from bacterial threat by a glass sarcophagus. Twice a week it is inspected and every 18 months it is immersed in an embalming solution for a month.