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20 Jan, 2021 09:39

Russia denies alleged plan for statues to Stalin’s murderous secret police chief Beria - says waxworks part of historical display

Russia denies alleged plan for statues to Stalin’s murderous secret police chief Beria - says waxworks part of historical display

Lavrentiy Beria is a figure whose name once sparked terror throughout Eastern Europe. As the head of the Soviet Union’s brutal NKVD secret police, he oversaw tens of thousands of executions and deportations to the gulags.

Now, though, the notorious Georgian is at the center of a media row. On Tuesday, a number of Russian news outlets and commenters reported that Rosatom, the state nuclear regulator, was planning to install two statues to the revolutionary in honor of his contribution to the USSR’s atomic weapons program.

According to Open Media, a Russian-language news site controlled by disgraced former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, officials had commissioned the pair of “highly realistic mannequins” for an exhibition on the history of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. In response to a media inquiry, the department’s press service quoted eminent physicist Igor Kurchatov as saying “if it hadn't been for Beria, we wouldn't have had a bomb.” “Therefore,” they conclude, “it is impossible to tell the story of the nuclear project of the USSR without mentioning Beria.”

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However, Andrey Cheremisinov, the Director of Communications at Rosatom, which manages public procurement, denied on Tuesday that Beria was being memorialized by the Russian government. "It's not accurate information,” he said. “There will be no sculptures of Laurence Beria.” However, he caveated that there would, however, be a waxwork installation and “Beria will be one of many.”

Far from being put on a pedestal, the murderous spy chief would only form part of a historical display. Previous displays like this, such as those organized by the famous London-based Madame Tussaud’s, have featured a diverse range of historical characters, including Charlie Chaplin, Chairman Mao and Adolf Hitler.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, talked up the exhibit during a call with journalists later on Tuesday. “I think it'll be interesting to many people,” he said.

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One of the most influential ministers serving under Communist leader and fellow Georgian Joseph Stalin, Beria shaped the NKVD into a ruthless tool of political control and oversaw the promulgation of a vast network of gulag labor camps. His ruthless organizational skills when it came to prisoner management were, apparently, also invaluable for nuclear engineering, and he oversaw the successful completion of the Soviet atomic bomb project in just under five years.

However, after Stalin’s death in 1953, Beria fell from grace, outmaneuvered by the future Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev. He was tried for treason and executed later that year. Since his death, Beria has come to represent the historical face of the revolution’s most inhumane excesses. British historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore describes how he was personally involved in the interrogation of political prisoners, reportedly placing a snake in the prison cell of a grieving widow and beating her children to death himself.

In 2011, workers digging a ditch near Beria’s former stately home in Moscow discovered a mass grave. Reports have claimed that Beria leveraged his position to sexually entrap young women, murdering any who resisted in his basement then ordering his men to bury them.

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