'Iron Felix', toppled founder of the KGB, to rise again


RUSSIA: Moscow's mayor has announced the planned comeback of one of the most potent symbols of Soviet Russia - the statue of the founder of the KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky.

The toppling of his 15-tonne bronze statue from its plinth outside the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square was beamed around the world in 1991, becoming one of the defining moments in the fall of communism.

Dzerzhinsky was nicknamed "Iron Felix" because of the ruthless methods he introduced as head of the Cheka, later named the KGB, to liquidate opponents. The killings, torture, deportation and terror he controlled came to symbolise the brutality of Soviet power.

But now Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, himself a former communist, says it is time to recognise that Iron Felix had a soft side too. "We should remember that he solved the problem of Moscow's homeless children," said the mayor, with unintended irony. "There were excesses at the time. The Red Terror. But if all the useful things Dzerzhinsky did were taken into account, it would be worthy of making the decision to return the statue to Lubyanskaya."

Iron Felix is also remembered for getting the trains to run on time - though his method, of shooting the drivers, is unlikely to make a comeback in management text books.

But the mayor is swimming with the tide: across Russia, and most of all in Moscow, symbols of the communist era are making a comeback under the presidency of the former KGB colonel, Mr Vladimir Putin. The army again flies the Red Flag, and marches to the Soviet anthem.

Military education is being reintroduced for school children, and the KGB, now renamed the FSB, is being dramatically expanded.

And Iron Felix's boss, Stalin, is enjoying a revival. His stern features growl from advertising hoardings and shop windows.

Luckily for Mr Luzhkov, Iron Felix's statue was not destroyed, merely put out to grass - literally - alongside scores of other Soviet era statues in parkland near the Central House of Artists in Moscow.

But not everyone is impressed. Opinion polls find Russians equally divided between those for and against the statue returning.

"To say that man did some good is a big hypocrisy," said Elena Egereva, a Moscow newspaper columnist. "It is like saying that Hitler did some good things. Well he did, he was a painter. He painted some nice landscapes, but that is not at all the point."