Iron Felix

The Mad Muscle behind the Mad Mind

December 20, 1998, Reuters

Russia’s secret policemen celebrate anniversary

By Alastair Macdonald

MOSCOW – Russia’s secret police and spy agencies, marking the 81st anniversary
on Sunday of their founding during the Bolshevik revolution, lamented what
they called past tragedies and pledged to defend democracy. But, in a sign
of disillusion with the hardships that have come with democratic market reforms,
communists gathered outside Moscow’s former KGB headquarters to demand the
restoration of a monument to its founder which jubilant crowds toppled in
1991.

‘There have been both glorious and tragic pages in the history of the security
organs,’ the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s main
successor, said in a televised address to mark the official Security Organs
Day. ‘The participation of the OGPU, NKVD and MGB in mass repressions from
the 1930s to the early 1950s was a genuine tragedy for all our people and
for the security organs themselves,’ a grim-faced Vladimir Putin said in
a 10-minute speech. He was referring to the predecessors of the KGB under
dictator Josef Stalin. ‘We have no right to ever forget that,’ he added.

Looking to the future, he said the FSB saw a valuable role for itself in
the new democratic Russia by becoming ‘an insurmountable barrier on the
path back to the grim past.’ ‘We must recognise that the only guarantee
of this must be not an irresponsible shake-up of such important elements
of the state mechanism as the security organs but the comprehensive reinforcement
of the democratic institutions of the new Russia.’

Putin claimed credit for his staff in fighting, sometimes at the cost of
their lives, a wave of organised crime, corruption, political terrorism and
extremism that has washed over Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union
at the end of 1991. A spokesman for the SVR, the foreign intelligence branch
formerly headed by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, said its agents were
devoting more effort to economic information.

President Boris Yeltsin, who spoke at a gala concert in the Kremlin on Friday
for security officers, praised their work and said, despite past errors,
they were among the world’s best. ‘In the history of the security organs
there have been many sad and even tragic pages, but there have also been
hundreds of brilliant operations of which many special services around the
world can be envious,’ said the president, who was harassed by the KGB after
being expelled from the Soviet Politburo in 1987.

Praising the present leadership of the security agencies, Yeltsin called
on them to continue their work in defending the rule of law and battling
serious crime and political extremism. An upsurge in extremist politics,
including a row over anti-Semitic remarks by Communist members of parliament,
has been blamed by critics on the worsening state of the economy.

On Saturday, a school in the Urals returned a bust of Stalin to a place of
honour, angering local liberals in what a Russian television station was
the first such restoration since 1991. On Monday, Communists will mark the
119th anniversary of his birth.

FSB CentralOn Sunday, several dozen supporters of hardline
communist groups gathered under red flags in front of the FSB headquarters
on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square to demand the restoration there of a statue to
secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Lubyanka Square, surrounded by snow trucks.

On December 2, the Communist-led parliament enraged human rights activists
and former victims of KGB repression by voting to demand the Moscow city
authorities restore Dzerzhinsky’s monument, which was hauled down by pro-
democracy crowds in 1991. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has refused to re-erect the
imposing column to Dzerzhinsky, who created the VChK or Cheka on December
20, 1917, and oversaw the bloody elimination of those who sought to block
the Bolsheviks’ rise to power.

‘Dzerzhinsky was a pure soul, he worked for the people,’ one elderly
demonstrator, Fyodor Ivanovich, said. ‘We wept when they pulled him down,’
another, Eleanora, said. ‘The democrats have inflicted such horrors on the
motherland.’

Johnson’s Russia List Monday 14 Dec 1998

Bring Back Dzerzhinski, But Turn Him Slightly To The Left

By George A. Marquart

This is what I wrote to my company on 22 August 1991 from Moscow: “Last night,
around 11 PM, I took a drive through the center of Moscow. The area around
the Kremlin, that had been a sea of tanks before, showed not a single tank.
All was peaceful and quiet. I got out of my car on Dzerzhinski Square and
stood for a few moments in front of the Memorial to the Victims of the Gulag.
It seemed to me not only that the threat of the night descending on this
country again was over, but, more importantly, the nightmare of the last
74 years.” The next day, “Iron Felix” was gone.

I have been there since, but it is obvious that without Felix, the other
memorial looses something. When you saw him across the simple stone from
Solovki, you knew that there was a purpose in the juxtaposition of the monuments.
And you were struck by the incongruity: Millions of victims represented by
one stone and one man who caused it all?

Should it have been Stalin instead? Slowly it dawned on me. No one person
could have created that horror by himself. Where are the millions of people
who were the vital ingredient without whom one of the greatest tragedies
of history could not have happened? Those who helped the executioners, those
who denounced their neighbors, those who perpetrated the lie of “the enemy
of the people” knowing that it was a lie, those who enriched themselves at
the price of the unspeakable suffering of their fellow human beings.

We know a few of their names; the rest is legion and anonymous as their
denunciations. Felix represents all of them, just as the stone represents
the victims.

So we need him back. Without him the meaning of the Memorial to the Victims
of the Gulag is incomplete. Just turn him ninety degrees to the left, so
you can look him straight in the eyes when you come to pay your respects
to the martyrs. Maybe future generations of Russians will not have to avert
their gaze. If they will be able to look at him and say, “We love justice,
freedom, and mercy, more than our very lives,” then Felix and those he represents
will have met their match. Then the banks will begin to function, the economy
will thrive, and the land will be filled with milk and honey.

Washington Post December 13, 1998

Return of ‘Iron Felix’

By Fred Hiatt, editorial page staff.

On a chilly August evening in 1991, a Moscow crowd cheered the removal of
a statue of “Iron Felix” Dzerzhinsky, brutal founder of the Soviet secret
police, from its pedestal before KGB headquarters.

As I look through news archives now, I find this event described, in subsequent
months and years, as the work of “angry crowds” or even an “angry mob.” But
I was in Dzerzhinsky Square (as the plaza then was known) that August night,
when the Soviet Union was crumbling, and I know there was no mob. As a municipal
crane methodically lifted the heavy statue and swung it toward a waiting
truck, onlookers remained orderly and good-natured, a bit awed at their presence
in history. A folksinger sang sad Russian ballads over a scratchy loudspeaker.
People smoked and shivered and chatted quietly and, at the climactic moment,
chanted patriotically: “Russia! Russia!”

It’s
a small example of how history can get written and then rewritten, and I
came across it only because Russia is still rewriting its history in a much
more momentous way. Earlier this month, the Russian Duma, or lower house
of parliament, voted to return Iron Felix to the perch in the square that
no longer bears his name.

Felix in his new home, the Statue Graveyard.

The Duma vote, coming seven years after a seemingly definitive repudiation
of Bolshevik terror, reflects how confused and divided Russians remain about
their past. That in turn helps explain why they remain confused and divided
about how to shape their future.

There is, in this country and elsewhere, justifiable anger at Swiss banks,
German insurance companies and others reluctant to acknowledge their complicity,
however peripheral, in the Holocaust. Think what our emotions would be if
Germans continued to worship Hitler himself, installing his mummified corpse
in a mausoleum by the Reichstag.

Unimaginable, of course. Yet that is about where Russians are in dealing
with their history. Stalin is no longer in Red Square, but Vladimir Lenin
remains on reverential display, a bit too yellow but neatly coiffed and costumed.
Most Russians would like to inter him finally in a cemetery — a proper Christian
burial would be a fitting punishment — but too many others still want him
in his humidity-controlled glass case.

How can this be? Lenin created the system in which — as one elderly man
told me the night Dzerzhinsky came down — “there was practically not a family
in this entire country in which someone didn’t suffer — either in jail,
or in the labor camps, or shot.” The man’s uncle had spent 15 years in the
gulag because he had owned a few shares of stock in the 1920s.

For decades, Russians were taught that Lenin was the good-hearted, all-seeing
father of the nation; that Dzerzhinsky’s secret police courageously defended
peace and order; that a boy who ratted on his father to the KGB was a model
of moral heroism. Now they are told otherwise. But whom to believe — especially
when the new historians also seem to have ushered in a period of danger,
uncertainty and poverty in many people’s lives?

Every nation fights over its history. Just last month, a South Carolina governor
was drummed out of office in part because he had sought to remove a Confederate
battle flag from the state Capitol. But some countries in transition
today are fortunate to enjoy some consensus about their past, and — just
as important — about whom to blame for it. Blacks in South Africa can hold
responsible the white minority; Poles can blame Russians. Russians can blame
only themselves.

“We are all guilty,” says Alexander Yakovlev. An architect of Mikhail Gorbachev’s
glasnost, Yakovlev has headed for the past decade a commission intended to
“rehabilitate” victims of Soviet repression — to restore the reputations
of millions upon millions unjustly sentenced to their deaths in Siberia,
to award pensions to those who miraculously survived. Punishing wrongdoers
isn’t on his agenda, but even so his commission’s seemingly innocuous work
is often stymied, Yakovlev said. To this day, he said, he can’t get key documents
relating to Kirov’s murder and other Stalin crimes. Children born and raised
in the gulag still qualify for no compensation. Russians are so uninterested,
so unwilling to face their past, that Yakovlev appealed to an audience here,
at the Holocaust Memorial auditorium, for help in publishing documents he
has uncovered.

There are many reasons, but Yakovlev returns to what he sees as fundamental:
“We are all guilty.” Almost every arrest of an innocent followed a denunciation
by another “average citizen,” he says. “Every group of writers condemned
was done in by the testimony of another group of writers, trying to eliminate
rivals.” All this matters. If Russians aren’t sure that it was wrong to round
up peasants who owned more than one cow, how can they agree on reprivatizing
land? If Dzerzhinsky is a hero, what chance can there be for civil liberty
and the rule of law?

That same autumnal evening in 1991, another man, a 56-year-old archery coach,
told me that he had faith, for the first time, that Russia would be free.
But he also warned that the process would take time. “After 70 years, you
can’t be free all at once,” he said.

Dzerzhinsky is not back up yet; opposition to his return is strong. But the
coach’s warning may have been more right than even he, at the time, expected.

The Sunday Times (UK) January 31 1999

Daughter fights to clear Stalin’s hitman

by Mark Franchetti Magadan

His name is synonymous with the Great Terror. As the head of the Soviet secret
police, Nikolai Yezhov – known as the Bloody Dwarf – sent hundreds of thousands
of innocent people to their deaths at the height of Stalin’s purges in the
1930s. Natalia Khayutina remembers a different Yezhov: a gentle father who
showered her with presents and played with her in the evenings after returning
from the Lubyanka, his infamous headquarters.

She could never have imagined that he spent his days supervising torture
and execution; nor, until recently, did she suspect that the man she called
Papa had taken her in after ordering the murder of her real parents.

Nearly 60 years after Yezhov was caught up in the bloodletting – he was executed
in 1940 as an enemy of the people – Khayutina is determined to clear his
name. She wants the Russian authorities to accept that he was not, as most
historians believe, one of the cruellest figures of the Soviet era, but a
victim of Stalin’s charisma. “Stalin was his icon,” she said. “He was turned
into a beast by his adoration for Stalin.”

Whatever lay behind Yezhov’s ruthlessness, Khayutina suffered for it from
her early years, when she was orphaned, to the decades when she roamed Russia’s
barren far north, moving on whenever her identity was discovered. Now in
her 60s, she exists on a pension of ú10 a month in Ola, a bleak village
near Magadan, 4,400 miles east of Moscow. “All my life I have felt invisible
eyes following my every step because of my father,” she said. “Yezhov has
been a heavy cross to bear. I have lived all my life in fear.”

Khayutina is aware that her attempt to have him rehabilitated entails the
sacrifice of hard-won anonymity. Her first application to military prosecutors
was rejected but she is preparing an appeal. It is hard to understand why.
Her real mother and her father, a Soviet trade representative believed to
have been posted in Britain in the 1930s, were almost certainly executed
on Yezhov’s orders.

He adopted her when she was about two. She spent three years living with
Yezhov and his wife in a government dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, where
Stalin visited and his daughter, Svetlana, came round to play. “Yezhov loved
me – he really loved me,” Khayutina said. “I feel no resentment about what
happened to my real parents, even if it was a crime. Those were difficult
times and maybe Yezhov could do nothing to save them. I, of course, was not
supposed to know.”

Khayutina has never discovered why he chose to adopt the sickly child of
two of his victims. She learnt her real parents’ fate only 10 years ago,
when the glasnost reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president, allowed
the truth to emerge. “I only knew one father – Yezhov – and I loved him,”
said Khayutina. Yezhov taught her to play tennis, skate and ride a bicycle,
and delighted her with gifts of furry toys. This portrait is far removed
from the monstrous impression the 5ft Yezhov made on millions of Russians.
“Better 10 dead innocent victims than one single unexposed spy,” he would
tell his officers.

Yezhov was appointed head of the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, in 1936,
as Stalin’s purges of his political rivals and imaginary enemies gathered
momentum. The reign of terror, marked by show trials, deportations and summary
shootings, is known in the former Soviet Union as “Yezhovshchina”, or the
time of Yezhov. He is believed to have been responsible for perhaps 1m deaths
during his two years in power, and he consigned millions of others to hard
labour in Stalin’s gulag archipelago.

Yezhov set quotas for prisoners to be taken in every region, prompting officials
to keep up their numbers by thumbing through telephone directories, looking
for victims with foreign-sounding names against whom allegations of spying
could be concocted. Thousands of Communist party members went to their deaths
still shouting their loyalty to Stalin. They never believed that the leader
himself could be responsible for such atrocities.

By the end of 1938, Yezhov had served Stalin’s purpose and was replaced by
Lavrenti Beria who remained head of the secret police until the dictator’s
death in 1953. Yezhov briefly held the post of people’s commissar for water
transport, but his habit of flying paper planes during meetings made many
wonder if he had gone mad. He was executed, having been accused of spying
for Britain and conspiring against the Communist party.

“It was all very sudden,” recalled Khayutina. “Father was taken away from
the dacha. I was bundled into a black car and taken to the Kremlin, to a
large room where all my things and toys had been brought and spread out on
the floor.” She was banished to an orphanage in Penza, in southern Russia,
where she spent nine miserable years. “Everyone taunted me. I was called
the daughter of a public enemy and we were made to rip out photos of Yezhov
from our history books,” she said. “It was years before I learnt that Yezhov
and my ‘mother’ had both been killed. I was absolutely shocked and immediately
wrote a letter to Stalin.”

After a somewhat nomadic life as an accordion player, Khayutina has found
a measure of peace in the region to which Yezhov dispatched thousands to
die in labour camps. Many passed through the port of Magadan; underfed and
overworked in temperatures of -40C, few survived. “He was blinded by his
love for Stalin,” said Khayutina, who wears her hat and coat in bed to keep
out the cold in her one-room flat. “But he was not a British spy and he should
be rehabilitated.”

She admits there are questions she would like to ask her father: “Why did
he commit those crimes? He adopted me and loved me. How could he be so brutal?”