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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Deepening row over KGB statue
Lubyanka
Lubyanka Square where Dzerzhinsky's statue once stood
Russian media have been reporting increasing calls by hardliners for the statue of the founder of the first secret police force, "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinsky, to be restored in front of the former KGB headquarters in Moscow.

The dismantling of the statue in Lubyanka Square in August 1991, as crowds of Muscovites cheered with joy, was considered one of the defining moments in post-communist Russia and a potent symbol of the collapse of communism.

cheka
The Cheka - set up just after the Revolution

Pictures of the crowd celebrating as the statue was hoisted away by a crane were shown around the world.

Dzerzhinsky was left to rust in the long grass of an "open-air museum" outside Moscow's main modern art gallery, along with fellow revolutionaries Lenin and Stalin and more recent Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

A call in Parliament by one pro-communist party leader to restore the statue of Dzerzhinsky, was backed by the extreme nationalist MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

He called for Parliament to investigate the people responsible for the destruction of the statue.

KGB veterans

But another deputy, Mikhail Lapshin, said: "We must remember how Russian peasants were destroyed, how the Gulag system was created."

Last week a group of KGB veterans called for the statue to be replaced.

Some believed their cause might win a sympathetic hearing from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a former head of the KGB.


We must remember how Russian peasants were destroyed, how the Gulag system was created

Deputy Mikhail Lapshin

"The name of Dzerzhinsky has some significance for the president, who came up through the state security structures," the head of the security service veteran's club, Major-General Velichko, was quoted as saying by Ekho Moskvy radio.

Two years ago, parliament voted to restore the statue, but the vote was not binding and the city authorities ignored it.

Earlier this year, protests erupted in Moscow when a memorial plaque honouring Yuri Andropov, the former head of the KGB, was restored to the facade of the secret service headquarters.

Gulag archipelago

Dzerzhinsky, who died in 1926, set up the Cheka shortly after the Russian Revolution, at Lenin's request, to be the eyes and ears of the state. It was the forefunner of the KGB and had a bloody reputation.

The BBC's Russian affairs analyst Stephen Mulvey says that, from the first days of the revolution, Lenin allowed the secret police to shoot, without trial, opponents of the revolution - and not only opponents.

People who happened to be intellectuals, capitalists and priests were shot simply for who they were.

Under Dzerzhinsky, the first of a string of forced labour camps - what became known as the Gulag archipelago - was set up on the remote Solovetsky islands, south of the Arctic Circle.

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See also:

18 Nov 98 | Analysis
Russia: 80 Murky Years Of The KGB
07 Nov 97 | World
The road to revolution
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