Vienna, September 19 – The removal of the statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, from in front of KGB headquarters in Moscow was an iconic moment in the collapse of communism there in 1991, a step that many saw as a guarantee that the kind of repression he sponsored would never return.
But yesterday, members of a Duma committee applauded a proposal by the country’s former deputy procurator general to restore the statue of the first Chekist to its former place of honor, yet another indication of the way in which the political pendulum is swinging in the Russian Federation at the present time.
And even the possibility that Dzerzhinsky will again stand in Moscow gives especial urgency to a proposal by the Czech government this week to set up a Europe-wide center for the study of totalitarianism and its victims so that nothing will be forgotten lest the kind of historical revisionism Russia is now engaging in open the way for new horrors.
Speaking to a session of the Duma Security Committee, Vladimir Kolesnikov, the former prosecutor, called for returning the statue of Dzerzhinsky to its former place, a proposal that the deputies applauded and that the leadership of the Communist Party said it would bring up at a session of the Moscow City Duma (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/Parliament/Duma/m.141598.html).
The committee was convened so that deputies could receive a medal marking “the 130th birthday of F.E. Dzerzhinsky” (which took place last year) from Valentin Timofeyev, head of the Union of Veterans of State Security, whose group is upset that the statue is now lying unprotected and exposed to the elements.
Some deputies appeared to support the return of Dzerzhinsky to Lubyanka Square because they wanted to honor him; others appeared to back it because he was “part of our history” and should not be ignored; and still others because they believe the statue would serve as a reminder of what he did and what must not happen again.
But whatever the balance of forces is in the committee and whether in fact this idea goes forward, the restoration of the statue, which stood in front of KGB headquarters from 1958 to 1991, would be seen by many Russians and others as a clear indication of a reversal in the direction Russia appeared to take after the fall of communism.
Not surprisingly, Russian human rights activists are horrified by this possibility. Oleg Orlov of Memorial said that “Dzerzhinsky is only a symbol” but that the next step will be the return of the kind of power he represented,” a tragic indication that Russia has not broken with the past (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-09-19/98318/).
Instead, he continued, “many bureaucrats want to sit between two stools,” thus in the words of “Novyye izvestiya,” returning the old Soviet order while preserving their current business opportunities.” And Tatyana Lokshina of Human Rights Watch denounced the idea of restoring the statue as an insult to “the thousands of the victims of repression and their families.”
Even as Russian deputies were applauding such a move, Pavel Zacek, of the Prague Institute for Totalitarian Studies, told the European Parliament that the EU should create a union-wide institute for the study of totalitarianism and a museum about its victims, a step that would help the continent come to terms with its past (euobserver.com/9/26773/?rk=1).
In June of this year, the Czech Senate adopted the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, under the terms of which this institution would be created, and in January 2009 the Czech Republic will assume the EU presidency and push for its implementation.
Even though more than half of the members of the European Parliament have reportedly signed a declaration supporting the idea, there is certain to be resistance both from member governments fearful of what such a step would mean in their relations with Moscow and those concerned about reopening the darker pages of Europe’s own past.
One reason why Moscow will look askance at this idea is that the Czechs have also suggested that August 23rd become the day for Europeans to remember the victims of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. That date, of course, is the anniversary of the Molotov –Ribbentrop Pact that led to the occupation of the Baltic states and opened the way for World War II.