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Plans to Return Statue of KGB Founder to Moscow Stir Controversy

Human rights groups in Russia are protesting a plan by Moscow's mayor to put a statue of the KGB secret police founder back in the center of the city, where it stood for more than 40 years.

The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky stood as a symbol of communist rule. He was the founder of the Cheka, predecessor to the KGB, in 1917.

Felix Dzerzhinsky was known for his ruthlessness and for pioneering a system of repression that killed millions of people in Russia and the other former Soviet republics.

His statue was erected in 1958 on Lubyanskaya Square opposite KGB headquarters. It stood there until 1991, when people filled the square to celebrate the failure of a Communist-led coup. Using a crane, the crowds removed the Dzerzhinsky statue.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov wants to put it back.

In comments reported last week by the Russian news wire Interfax, Mayor Luzhkov said the KGB founder was guilty of "excesses" but said there was much to praise about him as well.

The mayor's plan has drawn sharp criticism from political groups, and from the KGB's former victims.

The KGB sent Lera Ramanchenka to a gulag [prison camp] in 1937 along with her parents, who never returned. Now 72 years old, Ms. Ramanchenka describes the plan to restore the statue to its former glory as an insult to those who died under Soviet repression.

Ms. Ramanchenka says Felix Dzerzhinsky was a symbol of the "Red Terror," not just here in Moscow, but all over the country. And preventing the return of the statue is the business of all those who suffered from the Red Terror.

Human rights organizations and some political parties are also protesting the mayor's plan. In the same square where the statue used to stand, representatives from the political party Union of Right Forces are gathering signatures to prevent its return.

Among those present was Sergei Kovalyov, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, who said Dzerzhinsky was one of the most consistent and absolute opponents of even the idea of human rights.

This is not the first time that returning the statue to the square has been discussed. But in the past, the Moscow mayor opposed all such moves. Now, human rights groups are afraid that with his support the plan may be impossible to stop.

They also say Mayor Luzhkov is trying to curry favor with the political elite in the country, many of whom, including President Vladimir Putin, used to be members of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB.

Pavel Shaykin works at the Union of Right Forces in Moscow. He said this discussion also indicates that Russia has not come to terms with its history, that people in Russia do not have a feeling of guilt for what happened under communism like people do in Germany for what happened under the Nazis. He says unfortunately, for that reason, many people support returning the Dzerzhinsky statue to the square.

The Dzerzhinsky statue now stands near statues of former Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalinin at an outdoor museum in Moscow. A few meters away stands another sculpture, to those who died during the repression.