Vladimir Lenin is not considered funny in Poland.
A Polish mobile phone operator that used a cartoon image of the Russian communist revolutionary found itself barraged by angry feedback and responded this week by stopping its advertising campaign.
Older Poles remember the late Soviet leader for shaping a communist regime that killed millions and imposed mass terror in the Soviet Union. A communist regime was later imposed on Poles against their will by the Soviets after the Second World War.
The company, Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa S.A., counted on younger Poles to have shaken such associations, and recently started using a drawing of Lenin in the style of Soviet propaganda in poster and TV ads, with the command "Keep Talking!"
Heyah said late Monday on its Facebook page that it would pull the ads due to the outcry. It also said it had never intended offence.
Among those who protested was the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body that investigates communist-era crimes. Its director, Lukasz Kaminski, wrote in an open letter to the mobile operator that Lenin was "one of the biggest criminals" of the 20th century.
He said he was outraged that the company used the image of a man who was directly responsible for millions of deaths, including hundreds of thousands of Poles.
"It is irresponsible to trivialize mass crimes and their victims," Kaminski said. "The social effects of this campaign could also be more dangerous because it is addressed to young people, among whom it builds positive associations with Lenin."
A consumer rights group also urged people to complain to the company, a campaign it said resulted in about 1,000 letters. The Your Cause Association said using a "communist criminal" in marketing amounted to a bad joke.
It also said it would also gladly pay for history lessons for the members of the board of the phone company and the advertising agency that it used.