Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 132

An initiative recommending that the statue of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky be re-erected on Lubyanka Square, just opposite the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), failed today to pass the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house. The measure needed a minimum of 226 votes in the 450-seat body, but was supported by only 196 deputies, with 83 voting against it and 5 abstaining. The Duma voted, however, in favor of an initiative by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and a Duma vice-speaker, to continue discussing the issue. It was unclear, however, whether the deputies would re-visit the issue before taking their summer recess (Russian agencies, July 7). The Duma can only recommend that the statue be re-erected. A final decision to do so can be made only by the Moscow city government or the president.

The Dzerzhinsky statue was removed following the abortive hardline Communist coup in August 1991, and Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the Agro-Industrial deputies’ group in the Duma, has led the push in the Duma to restore the statue (see the Monitor, July 3). Yesterday, Kharitonov said Dzerzhinsky had done much for the nation, and said he would appeal to his fellow deputies to vote for restoring the statue. The issue was placed on the Duma’s agenda four times in recent days, but not been taken up because the deputies were busy debating the Kremlin’s draft legislation limiting the power of regional leaders and various tax proposals (Russian agencies, July 6).

Yesterday, Boris Nemtsov who heads the Union of Right-Wing Forces’ (SPS) faction in the Duma, promised that the SPS would find the money necessary to erect a statue of Dzerzhinsky at the entrance of Kharitonov apartment building. Nemtsov said the Duma should not address the issue because society is split over Dzerzhinsky role in Russian history, with some viewing him as a “villain and murder,” others viewing him as a person who “imposed order in the country.” “Considering this situation, [the] Kharitonov suggestion looks provocative,” said Nemtsov. Surprisingly, Viktor Ilyukhin, one of the more radical members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) faction in the Duma, said yesterday that he also opposed the lower house of parliament taking up the Dzerzhinsky statue issue, and that a Duma resolution to restore the might end up playing a “provocative role.” Nikolai Kovalev, the former FSB director who is currently a Duma deputy from the Fatherland-All Russia faction, agreed that resurrecting “Iron Felix” could “split society,” but said he would nonetheless vote for the initiative were it taken up. Kovalev criticized the “humiliating” way the Dzerzhinsky statue was removed in 1991 and charged that Russia’s special services had subsequently been weakened deliberately.

Some human rights activists, including Aleksandr Podrabinek, editor-in-chief of the human rights weekly newspaper Express Chronicle, have said that they believe that the Kremlin is behind the initiative to restore the Dzerzhinsky monument (NTV, July 5). Publication of Express Chronicle was suspended in April of this year, due to a shortage of funds. The paper began as a samizdat publication in 1987.