Memorializing ‘Iron Felix’ New monuments to Soviet secret police founder unveiled in Simferopol and Krasnodar
The Crimean city of Simferopol and the Russian city of Krasnodar both unveiled monuments to Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on September 11, the 144th anniversary of his birth. Both monuments drew criticism from representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, who condemned memorializing one of the architects of the Red Terror as an insult to its victims. The monument in Krasnodar was erected outside of a secondary school that was named after Dzerzhinsky in 2017, at the request of the school’s staff and the local FSB. In total, there are more than 40 monuments to Dzerzhinsky located across Russia.
Russian authorities in Simferopol (a city on the annexed Crimean Peninsula) unveiled a “restored” monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky in the city center on September 11, reported the Russian state-owned television network Crimea 24. Veterans of state security agencies took part in the ceremony, as well as school-age cadets. In photographs from the event, two young boys in cadet uniforms can be seen saluting the bust of Dzerzhinsky.
Nicknamed “Iron Felix,” Dzerzhinsky founded the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (VChK) — the early Soviet secret-police force commonly known as the Cheka. He was also one of the architects of the Red Terror that followed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Commenting on the restoration of the monument in Simferopol, Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB) said that “‘Iron Felix’ not only fought against counter-revolutionaries, but also raised the country out of ruin and poverty.” The FSB underscored that under Dzerzhinsky, “two thousands bridges were restored, [and] nearly three thousand steam locomotives and more than 10 thousand kilometers of railway track were repaired.”
In turn, Archpriest Leonid Kalinin, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarchal Council for Culture, condemned the new monument. “Personally, I’m categorically against the appearance of such monuments in any public spaces in Russia. This insults the memory of millions of innocent victims of terror, famine, cold, torment, torture, prison, camps, and the devastation of the Fatherland,” he told the radio station Govorit Moskva. The archpriest speculated that residents of Crimea would demolish the statue.
Meanwhile, in Krasnodar, another monument to the Cheka founder was unveiled outside of Felix Dzerzhinsky School Number 32, a secondary school under the patronage of the Russian FSB. The school was named after Dzerzhinsky in 2017, at the request of its leadership and the local FSB. In the spring of 2021, the school’s staff and veterans of the state security service asked city deputies to construct a monument to Dzerzhinsky in the school yard. In turn, Metropolitan of Yekaterinodar and Kuban Grigory urged local authorities to “be careful” about memorializing the names of “controversial” figures, reported the television station Tsargrad.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by the deputy head of the FSB’s Krasnodar bureau, Gennady Kudryavtsev, as well as Felix Dzerzhinsky’s great-grandson Vladimir Dzerzhinsky, among others. “The bust turned out to be a very beautiful and expressive replica of Felix Edmundovich,” Vladimir Dzerzhinsky said. “Today’s opening is a landmark event for the Dzerzhinsky family, veterans of the security agencies, and the staff of this school.” Vladimir Dzerzhinsky also said he wished people would study his great-grandfather’s legacy “as much as possible and learn from his works.”
Russia’s most well-known Dzerzhinsky monument stood outside of the FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square from 1958 until August 22, 1991, when it was torn down at the request of Muscovites after an unsuccessful coup attempt. The statue was moved to the Muzeon Park of Arts. Calls to return the monument to Lubyanka Square were raised repeatedly in the years that followed, in particular, by representatives of the Communist Party (KPRF) and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. In 2015, the KPRF gathered 150,000 signatures in support of holding a referendum among Moscow residents on returning the statue to its original place, but the party never organized the vote.
A vote on erecting a statue to either Felix Dzerzhinsky or medieval Prince Alexander Nevsky on Lubyanka Square was organized in Moscow in February 2021. Mayor Sergey Sobyanin shut down the plebiscite on the second day of voting, saying that it was turning into a “confrontation between people holding different views.”
There are more than 40 statues and busts of Felix Dzerzhinsky across Russia. According to a study conducted by Yandex, Dzerzhinsky statutes take sixth place among memorial monuments in Russia — outranking the number of monuments dedicated to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov and German philosopher Karl Marx. One of the most recent monuments to Dzerzhinsky was unveiled in Kirov in 2017, at the initiative of FSB veterans.
Translation by Eilish Hart