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Travels in Russia

Russian Remonts
Stop Theif!
Almost Worth Staying For
Offshore Your Rubles in Swiss Accounts
Russian Women
You Can Buy Anything in a Russian Kiosk!
What Did Russians Eat Before Potaotes?
Nothing Like a Birch Branch Beating!
Anything Can Be Scrap Metal
Serious Soviet Pollution
Day-Tripping Around the Garden Ring
The Russian Poezd
Yeltsin's Family
Soviet Photography
Happy Times in HTML Hell
Road Runners Rule!
Piva is Good!
A Subaka Says What?
Soviet Swimming
Manly Russian Men
And Peter is a Distant Second
Invest in Russia?!
The Zen of the Line
But He Went by the Name of Lenin
That Looks Just Like My Dom
Russian Adoptions by the Dozen
Internet Cafes Are Everywhere
Going to See Mama Russia
Going to the Movies
Russian Visas
Eta Notebook Batteria, Durak!
Fidelity is Not a Brokerage
Soviet Suburban Living
Taking the tramvai
Cash Transfers Across Russia
Time to go...
Do Your Spring Cleaning Now!
Reclama Nation
Russians Do Tours
Going Local
Pecktopan = Restaurants
Yevgeniy Primakov, Who?
101 Reasons Why NATO's War Sucks
A State Secrect: Women's Ages
Russians Blew up the US Embassy!
It's Dacha Time Again
I Love Me a Starlite Diner
Anything Goes at Night
Yesho Piedesat Gram Vodkoo
Shock Thearpy
IMF & Reform
Zoos Should Be for Politicans
There Was Giligan, And the Skipper Too
The Regions Exist?
Do You Believe the Media?
What is Russian Feminism?
Russian Music Rocks
Bye Bye Fast Food
Yest Klooch?
Addicts Are Addictive
Racism in Russia Too
An Education in Russian Politics
Orphans Are Lonely
Making Bliny
Nasty Newspapers
#51 If you get the jokes
Sick as a Dog
Those Crazy Russians
An Open Road Ahead
You Can Buy (Almost) Anything in a Market
Education Makes Elections Happen
Ice Cream in Winter
Superstitions Are Sneaky
The Adventures of Flat Jon
Ice Fishing in Sibera
Death is Painful in Any Culture, Anywhere.
Lenin is Alive
Every Thing is Leaking
New Russians
Go Dollar!
Corruption is Endemic
The Joe-Cool Moscow Crew
Taxes Will Find You
I'm Driven Mad
Holidays Last and Last
It's All About Location
Taxies Take You Everywhere
Russian Religion Re-emerges


Russia, January 31, 1999

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?"

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