Brutal Soviet secret police chief or 13th century saint? Muscovites decide whether Prince Nevsky or Iron Felix adorn iconic square

Residents of Russia’s capital city have started voting on whether a monument of Felix Dzerzhinsky should be placed outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), thirty years after it was pulled down in 1991.

Dzerzhinsky, nicknamed Iron Felix, was the secret police chief of the Soviet Union from 1917 until his death in 1926. After he died, he was commemorated throughout the country, and many streets bearing his name still exist today. Nowadays, he is known for brutal crackdowns on dissent and being one of the architects of the Red Terror, a period of political repression and mass killings.

Through the online ‘Active Citizen’ portal, Muscovites will have the opportunity to choose between restoring the statue of the old Bolshevik or erecting a monument to Alexander Nevsky, a 13th-century prince who gained legendary status after military victories against foreign invaders. He has since been canonized by the Orthodox Church.

The initiative was put forward earlier this month by nationalist figures Zakhar Prilepin, Igor Molotov, and Alexander Prokhanov, who believe the tearing down of the statue was illegal. After it was removed, it was taken to a park in the center of Moscow which is dedicated to fallen monuments from the communist era.

If restored, the monument would be placed on Lubyanka Square, the home of the FSB headquarters. The same square is also the location of the Solovetsky Stone, a memorial to victims of political repression in the Soviet Union, kickstarted by Dzerzhinsky himself.

According to sources cited by the British state broadcaster BBC, both the Kremlin and the Moscow mayor’s office support the installation of Nevsky instead of Dzerzhinsky. One anonymous source in the capital’s government offices told the BBC that the local authorities are “making efforts” to ensure that the medieval Prince wins.

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