Dreams of Dictatorship

The celebration of Russia's FSB is as if Germany's intelligence service commemorated the anniversary of the Gestapo.

During the Soviet period, every Dec. 20, most Chekists -- a word derived from the KGB's infamous predecessor, the Cheka, and still used to describe secret intelligence workers -- were required to be in full dress. Only we, the KGB officers who were always in civilian clothes, were freed from this unpleasant duty. The KGB did not work at all that day. Instead, agents attended ceremonies at which loud applause was heard everywhere. And by evening every one of us received coupons with which we could buy caviar, smoked salmon, sturgeon and other delicacies that had long been forgotten by ordinary citizens. Thus, the leadership of this omnipotent monster made sure that the day the KGB was founded would remain a sweet memory in the hearts of Chekists.

On Dec. 20 this year, the KGB's successor, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, is marking the Day of the Security Agencies Workers, better known as Chekists' Day, as if neither the overthrow of the Communist regime and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 nor the many decades of mass terror ever took place. The FSB's celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Cheka-NKVD-KGB runs contrary to democratic thinking. Imagine if Germany's intelligence service commemorated the anniversary of the Gestapo. This provocative gesture by the heirs of the KGB lets people know that they do not accept the democratic changes that have occurred in Russia and consider that their authority is as unquestionable as it was during Soviet times.

All this, of course, is posturing. The FSB's powers are no longer those of its predecessors. It cannot control the lives of every individual person. "Intelligence and counterintelligence, the FSB and SVR [External Intelligence Service] are undergoing a deep crisis," says General Viktor Ivanenko, former head of the Federal Security Agency, the first intelligence service of the new, democratic Russia, created by President Boris Yeltsin in 1991 to replace the KGB.

"The reason for the crisis is that no one needs [the FSB] and the authorities do not call on its services. The government is keeping the Chekists on hunger rations," Ivanenko continued.

The former KGB general is absolutely right. Yeltsin does not trust the Chekists very much. He has many reasons for not liking them. It is enough to recall how he was persecuted by the KGB in the wake of his election as president of Russia in 1991. Yeltsin knows that there is a widespread oppositionist and communist mood among the inhabitants of Lubyanka, the secret service's headquarters. Yeltsin has never viewed the Chekists as a source of support. It is for this reason that soon after he came to power he created his own personal intelligence agency -- the President's Security Service, or SBP -- which is also largely made up of former Chekists, but ones who are loyal and indebted to Yeltsin. There is no nostalgia for communism in the presidential service. On the contrary, the workers realize that if Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov came to power, they would be unwelcome.

Those who work in the FSB are envious of the SBP and secretly dream of transferring there. Despite the 80-year anniversary, FSB agents receive low pay. Moreover, the extra money that is given officers for food and uniforms is being withheld. Only the officers in the anti-terrorist center continue to enjoy such privileges. This June, the prices of passes to the intelligence service's many sanatoriums have risen as have the costs of medical care for relatives in the FSB's central hospital.

The Chekists look with longing and hope at Belarus, where the KGB has kept all its Soviet privileges. Belarussian Chekists are masters of the country who rule arbitrarily and propagate anti-Western sentiment to defend the communist order that still exists in this small Slavic state.

The FSB clearly cannot find a suitable place in Russian society. It is being squeezed out by other special services. Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, for example, is responsible for the country's economic security. As deputy prime minister, he ranks higher than FSB director Nikolai Kolalyov. In Soviet times, the reverse was true. Even the events of the past few weeks show that the FSB's status is not very high. The president entrusted not the FSB but the Prosecutor General's Office to bring the remains of the tsarist family from Yekaterinburg to Moscow. But by the logic of Soviet tradition, it is precisely the FSB that should have had that honor.

The FSB is doing its best to show that it is needed. It has activated a hunt for foreign spies, but the investigations into the various cases have thus far not led to trial. It did not succeed in securing the conviction of the mentally ill Platon Obukhov. And it provoked international outrage at the arrest of the environmentalist Alexander Nikitin. This testifies to the attempts by the Chekists to succeed at any price and to their generally low qualifications.

"The most enterprising and ambitious colleagues have left the KGB and gone into business," Ivanenko toldme. "All that is left are fanatic counterintelligence agents, but they make up no more than 5 percent, and the [rest are an] enormous ballast of people afraid of ending up on the street during a difficult time of economic reform."

Over the past six years, the FSB has undergone several reforms, but the main reform has not been introduced: formally ridding the organization of communists. To this day, people who were appointed by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party are still in key posts. We can only expect one thing from them: attempts to return to the unlimited dictatorship of the KGB.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.