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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: June 12, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Will the Statue of 'Iron Felix' Dzerzhinsky, First Soviet Secret Police Chief, Return to Lubyanka Square?
7 years
Pussy Riot's Tolokonnikova and Artist Nenasheva Detained in Moscow for Protesting Prison Conditions

Last night, June 11, Gazeta.ru reported that the Moscow City Elections Commission has just ruled to give permission to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) to conduct a referendum on restoring the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Soviet Union's first secret police chief after the 1917 Revolution.

For  a number of years, the Communists' request was simply rejected and their efforts to file lawsuits failed; now the time is favorable.

If the Communists manage to gather 146,000 signatures within 28 days, then on July 7 or 8 they will be able to hold a referendum on three issues: regarding educational reforms; health reforms; and return of the statue of "Iron Felix" as he was known to Lubyanka Square.

Lubyanka is the location of the Federal Security Service, Russia's domestic intelligence agency which is the successor of the KGB,  before that known by various names at various times, but originally the Cheka under Dzerzhinsky (for the initials for the words "Extraordinary Commission") -- the name still used informally today.

On August 21, 1991, the crowd of demonstrators protesting the hard-line coup led by then-KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov demanded that the 15-ton statue of Dzerzhinsky be torn down. Five cranes were summoned to do the job. The statue was put in a garden with other dismantled monuments to figures of the Soviet tyranny.

dzerzhinsky2_detail.jpg

To be sure, there have been numerous appeals to bring Dzerzhinsky back over the years, although they were rejected.

A poll in 2013 found that 45% of Russians favored returning it, with 25% unconditionally opposed to it. A smaller bust of Dzerzhinsky was returned to Moscow police headquarters at Petrovka 38 in November 2005.

Anna Semina, the author of the article on the referendum for Gazeta.ru, says the statue "can and should be returned" but acknowledged "that doesn't mean most Muscovites have such a point of view."

A source told Gazeta.ru that it would "extremely difficult" to place another figure in the spot in front of the FSB building (translation by The Interpreter):

On Lubyanka, the entire ensemble was placed around the Dzerzhinsky monument. All the more because now the monument has been restored, and it is in excellent form, so to say. In its current place -- Muzeone -- it is completely lost among the other abandoned sculptures.


In October 1991, Memorial Society arranged to place a stone from the Solovki Monastery, the first Soviet concentration camp for political prisoners, near the Lubyanka in memory of the victims of communism, but this monument in a park off to the side of the square, not at the site where Dzerzhinsky's statue once stood.

The Dzerzhinsky statue, made in 1958 by the famous Soviet sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich was restored in 2014; the question was raised at the time whether graffiti on it saying things like "End to Civil War" and "Down with Felix" scrawled during the opposition to the coup should be preserved. The museum responsible for the sculpture park believed that it should be left on as an artifact of history.

The Russian Military Historical Society, the pro-government patriotic organization have asked to change the location of the controversial statue of Grand Prince Vladimir, because of concerns that the weight of the statue could cause landslides. University professors and students had also objected; 50,000 signatures were gathered, as it was seen as the imposition of a religious figure on a secular educational space. Now some thought is being given to putting the statue of Prince Vladimir on Lubyanka Square; other locations are Smolenskaya Square or near the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

The issue will be debated on July 14 at the experts commission for monumental art of the Moscow City Duma.

Felix-versus-Vladimir.jpg
Art work accompanying Gazeta.ru article.

There has been some commentary already on Twitter.


Translation: what do you think, should the monument to Dzerzhinsky be returned? No - favorite. Yes - Retweet.
Translation: Whose monument should be placed on Lubyanka Square? Retweet - Dzerzhinsky. Favorite - St. Vladimir.
Translation: FIFA will take away the world championship from Russia and Putin in revenge will return the monument to Dzerzhinsky to Lubyanka.

Translation:  if you don't like Dzerzhinsky - let's place a monument to soldiers and officers of the NKVD divisions who died at the fronts in the Great Patriotic War. That would be just.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is moving in the opposite direction, with not only Lenin statues toppling everywhere, but last week a Dzerzhinsky statue as well.

Translation: Ukrainian nationalists took down the monument to Dzerzhinsky in Rivne Region.

President Vladimir Putin's reversals of many of the accomplishment of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin era of reforms in freedom of the press, association and enterprise seem commonplace now.

Yet certain areas that once seemed as if they might remain "untouched" even under Putin -- like the rehabilitation of Stalin -- have dangerously reappeared, as the 70th anniversary of Victory Day provided an excuse for putting the tyrant's face on posters again. Most likely we will see Dzerzhinsky return because Putin, a former KGB officer and once intelligence chief of Russia himself, will find it fitting.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick