MOSCOW, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- A Russian liberal party
and human rights activists
staged a rally Monday in central Moscow to block the return of
a statue of
Soviet-era secret police chief Felix Dzerzhinsky to its site in
front of the
FSB security service headquarters.
The Union of Rightist Forces, known by its Russian initials of
collecting signatures to block the return of the monument, which
removed from Lubyanka Square in August 1991 after Communist rule
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov sparked the debate on the future of
the statue last
week, insisting the 14-ton bronze monument was an outstanding
work of art
that deserved to regain its prominent place in the heart of Moscow.
Luzhkov said the dismantling of the monument a decade ago was
"exclusively by the wave of protest against the existing
(Soviet) system, but
not against the monument itself."
However, as debate raged among the intelligentsia, politicians
liberal parties such as Yabloko and the SPS said they were categorically
opposed to the return of "Iron Felix," as the founder
of what became the KGB
"Dzerzhinsky was a butcher who killed millions of Russians,"
SPS leader Boris
Nemtsov told a crowd of supporters gathered in front of the headquarters
the FSB, formerly the KGB.
Nemtsov said Dzerzhinsky's name alone was a constant reminder
atrocities committed by the Soviet regime.
"It is not a question of whether this monument is good or
bad. It is a symbol
of a totalitarian era that ended not so long ago," Nemtsov
"Restoring such symbols may bring back totalitarianism,
we could see
censorship and the violation of democratic freedoms," he
Liberal forces have been alarmed by the initiative, laden as
it is with
symbolism and that follows the return of the Soviet anthem as
national anthem earlier this year.
Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the Yabloko party, said a return
Dzerzhinsky's statue to its central place on Lubyanka Square was
"intolerable" because of its symbolic nature.
Vladimir Lukin, a leading member of Yabloko and deputy speaker
of the State
Duma, the lower house of parliament, also condemned the initiative.
"This man (Dzerzhinsky) was directly conducting the 'red
terror, he organized collective murders," Lukin said, adding,
"He is one of
the biggest terrorists of the 20th century."
Memorial, a human rights group created to defend the rights of
victims of Stalinist camps and their relatives, said it would
return of Dzerzhinsky's statue as it symbolized a regime that
Gulag, a system of forced labor camps where millions of political
perished during Joseph Stalin's rule.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, another
rights organization, said the mere suggestion that the symbol
of Red Terror
should be restored was extremely worrying.
Among those to support the return of Iron Felix were the leaders
Communist, nationalist and agrarian parties.
Luzhkov, who had expected a heated debate over the future of
infuriated and astonished many as he had earlier supported the
removal of the
statue and called for a new monument to replace it.
In 1998, Luzhkov rejected a motion by Communists to restore the
he was a changed man over the weekend, championing the benefits
the "beautiful architectural and artistic composition which
was a dominant
feature of the square."
Luzhkov said the statue was so fine it was "flawless"
and "beyond reproach."
The mayor also tried to whitewash Dzerzhinsky by presenting him
progressive humanitarian who cared for homeless children and fought
"NKVD, KGB -- that was after Dzerzhinsky. If we put on the
scales all the
things this man had done, the good will prevail," Luzhkov
said, arguing that
Dzerzhinsky was associated above all with solving social problems
vagrancy, restoring Soviet railways and with the progress of Soviet
"I assume, indeed, that this monument, created by outstanding
(Yevgeny) Vuchetich, tells a story of the great (Russian) nation's
the Moscow mayor said.
In Russian minds, Dzerzhinsky is still most often associated
brutalities of the Bolshevik regime and the omnipotence of its
services, which he came to epitomize from the early days of Communist
Dzerzhinsky was the chairman of the notorious Cheka, the first
police organization, the precursor of the NVKD and later KGB.
A Pole by
nationality, Dzerzhinsky also became known for his fanaticism
in serving the
Soviet regime and ruthless use of terror against all dissenters.
leaving the secret service, he held other important posts in the
Over the years, the monument to Dzerzhinsky, standing in front
of the KGB
building in Lubyanka Square, came to signify the iron fist of
authoritarian regime that ruled the Soviet empire for more than
That explains why it was among the first monuments to Soviet
by thousands of Muscovites who spilled onto the city streets in
1991 to protest a hard-line coup that aimed to depose reformist
As the coup failed, crowds rushed to Lubyanka to topple the statue.
screamed with joy and cheered in unison as a crane dismantled
Since then, the monument has stood in the backyard of Moscow's
of Artists, along with other statues of Communist leaders that
by angry crowds.
Several leading liberals have suggested that Luzhkov may have
decided to push
ahead with the statue's restoration for political benefits such
a move may
hold. It is well known that President Vladimir Putin, a former
views Dzerzhinsky as a great historical figure and a mentor, and
may have hinted to the mayor that it would be nice to have the
statue back in
its prime position in front of the secret service's headquarters.
YABLOKO and the
Grim Symbols of the Soviet Era