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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Wants to Resurrect Iron Felix

MTThe statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, which stood on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad until 1991, was one of the most controversial and notorious icons of the Soviet past.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Friday called for the resurrection of the towering statue of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad, in a surprise move that drew sharp criticism from liberal politicians.

The 15-ton bronze statue, one of the most controversial and notorious icons of the Soviet past, was toppled from its pedestal near the former headquarters of the KGB by jubilant pro-democracy protesters after the failed coup by Communist hard-liners in August 1991.

Luzhkov steadfastly opposed a proposal by the Communist-dominated State Duma four years ago to return the statue to the square. But he inexplicably did an about-face Friday and embraced Iron Felix, as Dzerzhinsky is known, for his unbending determination to impose harsh punishment. "It's an excellent monument and was the highlight of Lubyanskaya Ploshchad," Luzhkov said at a meeting of the city's construction committee, Interfax reported.

He said re-erecting the statue would not mean "a return to the past."

Luzhkov told reporters Saturday he expected a fierce public debate over his announcement and he would stoutly defend his position. Luzhkov focused on Dzerzhinsky's positive achievements, rather than the mass arrests and executions. "We should remember that he solved the problem of homeless children and bailed out the railroads in a period of devastation," Luzhkov was quoted by Interfax as saying. "There were excesses at that 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."

Duma lawmakers decried the remarks. "We agree with Luzhkov on many other issues, but here we will split with him," Alexei Arbatov, a prominent Yabloko deputy, told Interfax on Friday.

Alexander Barannikov, a deputy head of the Union of Right Forces, said that in raising the issue, Luzhkov had experienced "a moment of temporary insanity." The Kremlin's representative to the Duma, Alexander Kotenkov said, "Monuments shouldn't be toppled but, if toppled, they should not be restored."

Leftist politicians and several centrists supported Luzhkov. Some said Dzerzhinsky had every right to crown the downtown square, while others declared Luzhkov could put up anything he wanted in the capital. "Luzhkov is the master of Moscow, and we must consider his opinion," said Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, a centrist.

Liberal lawmaker Sergei Yushenkov called the mayor's proposal "delirious" and said he regretted that the monument would inevitably be restored.

The federal government has no say in the matter, and Luzhkov has a reputation for getting things done once he puts his mind to it.

Luzhkov's announcement nearly coincided with the 125th anniversary of Dzerzhinsky's birth -- Sept. 11. Dzerzhinsky, who died in 1926, was one of the ideologists and organizers of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the first leader of the Cheka, the precursor to the KGB. He is well-known for ordering mass arrests and executions.

The Dzerzhinsky statue was erected in 1958 by sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and was a landmark in Soviet times.

When the statue was pulled down in 1991, the U.S. Embassy provided a crane to help remove it from its pedestal, former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov wrote in his memoirs.

Luzhkov said Saturday that the toppling of the statue had nothing to do with Dzerzhinsky personally.

"It was the protest against the [social] order, not against the statue," he said.

Luzhkov, who was a top city official in 1991, ordered that the statue be stored in a graveyard to Soviet monuments at the Central House of Artists.

The Duma decided to restore the statue in 1998, but Luzhkov balked, saying the lawmakers had no right to determine "which monument to put back and which to topple." Two years later, just after Vladimir Putin moved into the Kremlin, the Communists again put the issue on the Duma's agenda. Lawmakers voted against restoring the statue.

Human rights activists attempted to place another landmark on Lubyanskaya in 1990 to commemorate the victims of the prison camps established by Dzerzhinsky -- the huge Solovetsky Stone from a camp in northern Russia.

In early 1990s, rallies at the site by human rights organizations drew thousands of people. Now, the meetings are attended by only several dozen people.

Luzhkov promised Friday that the statue would be on the agenda of the construction council's next meeting in October.