Moscow officials license referendum to restore monument to KGB founder Dzerzhinsky

Dismantling monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky on Moscow's Dzerzhinsky Square in the early hours of August 23, 1991 on orders from the Moscow City Soviet (Council) after an abortive coup involving members of the so-called State Committee for the State of Emergency (RIA Novosti / Alexander Polyakov)
The Moscow city elections commission has complied with the Communist Party’s request to hold a referendum on restoring the monument to Bolshevik leader Felix Dzerzhinsky.

This is one of the chief bugbears dividing the nostalgic leftists and the liberal part of Russian society.

To get a final go ahead, the referendum must be approved by the city legislature, and according to RIA Novosti, the Moscow Duma might vote on the issue as soon as July 24. Before that, the lawmakers will make yet another check to see if the referendum complies with existing Russian law, an unnamed source in the Communist Party press service told RIA Novosti.

Felix Dzerzhinsky was a top functionary in the first Bolshevik government in Soviet Russia. He was responsible for security issues. He is most known as the founder of Cheka – the Russian abbreviation for Extraordinary Commission – the predecessor of the Soviet Committee for State Security, the KGB.

Dzerzhinsky died in 1926 and as with other Bolshevik bosses his name was used to rename cities, streets and many other things. Moscow’s Lubyanka Square that hosted the KGB headquarters was renamed after Dzerzhinsky in 1926 and the monument to him was erected in the center of the square in 1958.

Soviet dissidents saw the KGB as the main tool of Communist oppression and the square and the monument was also associated with this oppression. In 1991, the square was renamed Lubyanka again and the monument to Dzerzhinsky was removed. This happened after the so called August Coup – the failed attempt by some die-hard Communist officials to remove Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The events culminated ended in the breakup of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin’s rise to power as the first president of Russia.

Shortly thereafter, the Memorial NGO that specializes in the history of Stalinist purges installed its own monument in the center of the square. This was the so called Solovetsky Stone – a granite boulder brought from Solovetsky Island, where one of the first Gulag camps was once located. Memorial also started holding an annual event called “Returning the Names” on the square, during which activists read out the names of people who were executed in the 1930s for their political beliefs.

READ MORE: Russia remembers victims of Stalinist purges

However, the Communist Party and other leftists insist that Dzerzhinsky was a great man and did a lot of good for the country. Since 2000, they have been demanding the monument be reinstated on Lubyanka Square, but these initiatives have so far been rejected.

In 2013, the Russian government-owned polling agency VTSIOM carried out research that showed that 45 percent of respondents all over the country approved of the idea of reinstalling the monument to Dzerzhinsky in its old place. Twenty-five percent of Russians were against the idea.

The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky that was the main part of the monument still stands in Mouseion Park near the Moscow House of artists – along with several dozen other Soviet sculptures removed from their stands after Perestroika.