[FOUNTAIN]A tale of two statues

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[FOUNTAIN]A tale of two statues

It was on Dec. 7, 1917 that the Polish-born Bolshevik leader Felix Dzerzhinsky became the first chairman of the Cheka, or the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. The secret police agency was, in fact, organized by Dzerzhinsky after Vladimir Lenin assigned him the job of waging terror and sabotage against anti-Bolshevik elements and gathering intelligence outside Russia with the goal of concluding the Russian revolution.

That was the beginning of Cheka, the precursor to the current Russian intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and the previous Soviet state security agency, the KGB. The secret police have been called different names over the years, but the agents have always been called "Chekist." The Chekists' headquarters were located in the Lubyanka Square in Moscow. The Soviet regime erected a giant statue of the Cheka founder Dzerzhinsky in 1958 in recognition of his contributions to the state communist system. The statue, by the sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich, weighed 15 tons and marked the square as the power of the KGB.

In 1990, the Solovetskiy Stone was erected to commemorate the victims of the democracy movement. The stone was brought to the site by democracy activists from the Solovki Prison Camp run by the Cheka. For one year, the symbols of democracy and communism coexisted in the square. Then, in August 1991, an angry mob toppled the Dzerzhinsky statue after a failed coup attempt by hard-line communists.

The statue was forgotten until December 1998, when the Russian assembly, the Duma, decided to re-erect it. The plan died with opposition led by Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov.

But this September, Mr. Luzhkov suddenly changed his mind. The situation in August 1991 was simply a challenge to social order and not about the public's distaste for Dzerzhinsky, he said, declaring that the statue be re-erected. At the same time, Gavrill Popov, Moscow's mayor in 1991, revealed that the crane used to topple the statue was provided by the American Embassy.

As Russia's most visible KGB veteran, President Vladimir Putin expands the rule of order and power in Russia. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the secret police. With the second period of coexistence for the two opposing symbols -- the Solovetskiy Stone and the Dzerzhinsky statue -- seemingly imminent, future generations may have something interesting to say about it.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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