Monday, March 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: The Lubyanka at 90

Paul Goble

Baku, March 31 – Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of the Lubyanka as the headquarters first of the main Soviet and more recently of the chief Russian intelligence and internal security service, an anniversary which among other things means that this child of the revolution has long outlasted the regime that created it.
Among the many articles about this event that have appeared, one of the most interesting is a set of reminiscences by Stanislav Lekaryev, who worked there as he says “almost every day” from 1958 to 1984, retiring as deputy chief of the KGB’s counterintelligence directorate (
Because he did so, Lekaryev says, the Lubyanka, so dreaded by most Soviet citizens, was for him “native” ground, and his recollections thus resemble those of anyone who has served in an institution that old. But of course, he adds, “all the same, this is the Lubyanka – and that means there are some special cases.”
Many people have recalled that the hallways of the headquarters of the Soviet secret services had many nooks and crannies into which officers could duck so as not to be seen by prisoners being led through them, but Lekaryev says that what he remembers most are the red lights above the doors and the closed windows.
When the lights were lit, he says, that means that an interrogation was going on, and no one was allowed to enter. And it was prohibited to open the windows, not so much because anyone feared a repetition of Boris Savinkov’s end in 1925 - -“did he throw himself out of one or was he pushed?” Lekaryev asks.
Rather the windows could not be opened because the security services feared that secret papers would somehow escape. All the balconies that had adorned the building earlier were removed and most windows bricked up; only a few small ventilation windows – “fortochki” – were ever opened.
Lekaryev arrived at the KGB headquarters in 1958 when the organs still generated real “terror” in most people. He met the man who executed people between Stalin’s time and Brezhnev’s time when they had to be killed within the confines of the Lubyanka but does not believe he shot more than 10,000.
Commenting about his colleagues, the retired counter-intelligence specialist says that the organ’s slogan, “clean hands, a hot heart” does not really comprehend what they were like. “In fact, [the Lubyanka was] an enormous office, where there were all kinds of people: heroes and scoundrels, intelligent people and idiots … In short, real people.”
They varied in many other ways too, he says. Many had hobbies, but one thing that joined most of them together was drinking. That is the case of “all special services,” Lekaryev says. But at the Lubyanka, there were two special rules: First, you were never to appear drunk at work, and second, you had to carry any bottles away.
The latter was especially important and rigidly enforced. Once during a visit to the building during Gorbachev’s perestroika, the retired KGB officer says, he found bottles in one of the Lubyanka restrooms. “And I thought, this is the limit! The system has gone to the dogs. In my time, we would never have allowed that.”
Lekaryev admitted that he had a hobby as well – collecting old documents but not secret ones. Once, when some remodeling was going on, he came across in another restroom some certificates from the 1920s giving the Order of the Red Banner to some GPU and OGPU officers for their work – possibly for work in the Trust operation.
And “I took them,” he says. “Simply as a memento. “Why should the evidence of the glorious past end up in the toilet? Forty years had passed. No one needed them.” But such actions and even more some of his comments do not please all of his fellow veterans of the Lubyanka.
Some of them say that this “discredits” the institution. But that’s absurd. “I will not surrender ‘secrets of the beer factory.’ … People can find enough out about its sins. I simply want to recall that among the multitude of people in the Lubyanka, there was also something deeply human.”

No comments: