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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Keep Iron Felix on Scrapheap of History

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has a mixed track record when it comes to beautifying the city. Many Muscovites heaved a sigh of relief when Luzhkov declared that the boxy Intourist hotel on Tverskaya Ulitsa was a blemish on the city's skyline and decided to pull it down. At the same time, many wrinkle their noses whenever word breaks that Luzhkov is in talks with his favorite sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli. Among Tsereteli's many works that dot Moscow, his mammoth tribute to Peter the Great on the Moscow River is widely considered the ultimate monument to bad taste.

But two Luzhkov characteristics are indisputable -- he's a populist, and he's stubborn. When he puts his mind to something, he gets it done.

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That bodes ill for those opposed to Luzhkov's surprise announcement Friday that he wants to resurrect the towering bronze statue of secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on the square outside the former KGB (now FSB) headquarters.

Luzhkov on Friday declared the statue "an excellent monument" and promised that its return would not mean a return to the past. Maybe so. But why glorify the man who set up the Soviet Union's first concentration camps and initiated the Red Terror -- the man whose reputation as a ruthless, fanatical communist earned him the name Iron Felix?

Luzhkov chose to look at Dzerzhinsky's more positive achievements: "We should remember that he solved the problem of homeless children and bailed out the railroads." Wait a minute. Surely,

Dzerzhinsky was contributing to the problem by arresting or killing hundreds of thousands of parents.

Just four years ago Luzhkov fiercely opposed a vote by the Communist-dominated State Duma to re-erect the statue (and as mayor he has the final say in what statues go up). So why the volte-face?

Luzhkov must be trying to curry favor with somebody -- perhaps with the FSB, where

Dzerzhinsky, like the 15-ton statue, still looms larger than life. Some media reports have suggested Luzhkov wants to restore the statue as a 50th birthday present to former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who celebrates his half-century on Oct. 7.

Under his presidency, the FSB has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Moreover, Putin has been attentive to the Soviet past, restoring the Soviet national anthem and the Soviet Red Banner as the official armed forces emblem. On becoming prime minister in 1999, he ordered that a plaque commemorating Yury Andropov be returned to the wall of the KGB's old Lubyanka headquarters.

Lubyanskaya Ploshchad may look empty without Iron Felix, but perhaps a better idea would be to erect a monument to victims of Soviet-era repression, as human rights activists have long wanted.

Luzhkov argues that the crowd of 10,000 people who toppled the statue after the failed 1991 coup attempt had nothing against Dzerzhinsky himself but were protesting against the social order. However, the statue is a potent symbol of the worst aspects of that social order and as such certainly should not be restored to a position of any prominence on the city's skyline.