Monument to Soviet secret police founder restored in Moscow

A monument to Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky has been restored to its former place outside Moscow police headquarters, a move criticized Wednesday by Russian rights groups and politicians who said it showed authorities' neglect for human rights.

The bronze bust of Dzerzhinsky, known as Iron Felix, stood in front of the city police building in central Moscow from the late 1970s until it was taken down after the 1991 Soviet collapse. It was put back in place Tuesday, Moscow police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev told The Associated Press.

The bust, which sits atop a 2.5-meter (8-foot) stone pedestal, was restored to the courtyard ahead of a Thursday holiday celebrating police at the request of Moscow police veterans who respect Dzerzhinsky for taking care of orphans and street children.

Dzerzhinsky, deeply reviled by critics of the Soviet era, helped establish the first Soviet secret service, called the Cheka, in 1917 under Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. The Cheka, a forerunner of the KGB, was responsible for mass arrests and executions, the AP says.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a leading human rights activist, called the monument's restoration "another little step back to the U.S.S.R.," saying that the secret police Dzerzhinsky founded was "the bloodiest body our country ever saw."

Alexeyeva said that the monument's reinstatement showed that today's authorities admire Dzerzhinsky's brutal policies. "If he is their hero, we can only guess what they are dreaming of," she said.

"When such sculptures are restored, it means that Russia is turning away from the democratic path and is returning to the old system, the Soviet, communist, totalitarian system ... where the government's role is valued above all," Nikita Belykh, leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, was quoted by the Kommersant daily as saying.

After the failed hard-line Communist coup in 1991, a towering statue of Dzerzhinsky that stood in front of KGB headquarters was toppled from its pedestal in a display of euphoria over the collapse of the repressive Soviet system. There has been debate over calls to restore that monument.


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