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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
Statue plan stirs Russian row
A demonstrator steps on the head of the Dzerzhinsky statue
The statue was toppled - with a crane - in 1991
The BBC's Stephen Dalziel

A furious row has erupted in Moscow over a suggestion by the city's Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, that a statue of the founder of the secret police be restored to its plinth.

The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky was removed in 1991, following the collapse of the coup against the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a human rights advocate, signs a petition against the restoration
Opponents say restoring the statue would condone Dzerzhinsky's brutal methods
There is now a division between those who see Dzerzhinsky as an historical figure and those who believe that restoring the statue would give credibility to the terror he caused.

Mr Luzhkov's suggestion that Dzerzhinsky should be returned to his plinth has illustrated just how difficult Russians still find it to come to terms with their recent past.

Dzerzhinsky founded the first Soviet secret police force, the Cheka.

He openly stated that "organised terror" was necessary at the time of a revolution.

Setting a violent trend

In the six years following the revolution of 1917, it is believed that about half a million people were executed.

This set the pattern for Stalin's time, when as many as 30 million Soviet citizens may have been put to death by the secret service.

Among its various incarnations, it is usually remembered as the KGB.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the organisation has been renamed again, and is now the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Lubyanka Square
The statue dominated Lubyanka Square so much it was nicknamed "Dzerzhinsky Square"
The FSB's headquarters are in the same building as those of its predecessor, on Lubyanka Square.

It was on this square - called "Dzerzhinsky Square" in Soviet times - that the statue of Dzerzhinsky stood.

It was removed shortly after the failed coup in August 1991.

As with many Soviet monuments, it was so well constructed, that it could not be simply torn down - it took a heavy-duty crane to lift it.

Passions raised

The suggestion by Mr Luzhkov to restore the statue has raised passions on both sides.

Liberals want to do away with the symbols of the Soviet era.

Others say that it is only acknowledging Russia's often turbulent past.

But Mr Luzhkov - who has previously blocked attempts to restore the statue - may have a hidden political agenda.

Russian President Vladimir Putin served in the KGB for 16 years.

Even though the presidential administration has stated that it is against the statue's restoration, it may well appeal to a nostalgic streak in the president himself.

See also:

23 Jun 00 | Media reports
30 Apr 02 | Europe
19 Dec 01 | Media reports
18 Nov 98 | Analysis
10 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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