The colloquial name for a statue that used to stand in Lubyanka Square in Moscow, near the then-headquarters of the KGB (now the FSB). Also the nickname of the man it represents. The statue was removed in August 1991 during public protests in the run-up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The statue is of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, the original Soviet secret police and precursors to the NKVD which became the KGB, surely one of the most pervasive and feared state security services in history.
The first part of the story is undoubtedly better-reproduced elsewhere on E2, so to summarise: in August 1991 the Committee for the State of Emergency in the USSR (or the State Emergency Committee, depending where you read) was formed in the Soviet Union by branches of the military, the Communist Party and the KGB. The totalitarian excesses of the USSR had been de-clawed to an extent by Gorbachev and the security services were being weakened, something that the old guard had watched with dismay. The CSEU was formed to carry out a coup against Gorbachev, then vacationing in the Crimea.
On Monday August 19th he had been placed under house arrest. KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov had ordered the section leaders of the coup to stand by for directives to secure the governmental infrastructure of the Soviet Union. Paramilitary forces were ready in Moscow to storm the White House, through the crowds supporting Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin.
However, none of the usual coup indicators were present - blackouts of communications traffic, widespread political arrests, or disruption of travel in major population centres. Its leaders were silent. On Wednesday the coup forces were still waiting for the order to proceed and it was beginning to look like their leaders were getting cold feet. By Thursday morning much of the support present in the tiers of the government had been tacitly withdrawn, including that of acting KGB Director Leonid Shebarshin.
Later that day the crowd surrounding the White House was jubilant to see the tanks that had threatened to crush them pull back, a rather final demonstration of the coup's withdrawal. Boris Yeltsin addressed his supporters, thanking them and calling for the Communist Party to be banned. Supporters broke through barriers into Red Square and made a ragged victory parade. Tension still remained however, and the crowd's attention turned to the headquarters of the Communist Party. They were disappointed to find it locked and barred, only succeeding in throwing stones through some windows.
After considering storming the KGB headquarters, focus shifted to the nearby statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the secret police and famous for the mass arrests and executions he ordered. The crowd had found the symbol of Soviet oppression they needed to destroy.
Somewhere between ten and twenty thousand people surrounded the statue, shouting for it to be pulled down. People clambered on top of it and secured ropes to it, hoping to find some means to topple it. Unfortunately the 15-ton statue was far too heavy to be removed in this way due to the underpass that ran below the section of road. The deputy Mayor of Moscow was brought in to ask the crowd to wait until the following day, when equipment could be brought in to remove the statue. He failed to placate the crowd - which was growing increasingly restless - his request was met by jeers.
Moscow's Mayor Gavriil Popov wrote in In Opposition Again that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow telephoned to offer help. Construction was under way at their building and a crane was present big enough to remove the statue. It arrived at around midnight and the crowd cheered as Iron Felix, who had stood over the square since 1926, had a chain noose wrapped around him, was lifted from his pedestal and laid on his side.
Curiously enough Krupp, the German manufacturer of the crane that removed the statue, had also manufactured the bronze cannons that were melted down to cast it.
Just over five months later, on Christmas Day 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved with a whimper. The Hammer and Sickle was replaced over the Kremlin with the white, blue and red flag of the Russian Federation.
Flowers currently mark the spot in front of the imposing, faded-yellow austerity of FSB headquarters, though the last decade has not been without suggestions to reinstate the statue. After its removal it was dragged to a 'graveyard' of sorts near Gorky Park, where statues of Lenin were beginning to pile up. It was later moved to a similar enclosure for various Soviet-era icons near the Tretyakov Gallery, now the Central House of Artists (possibly this featured in the Bond film Goldeneye). Iron Felix remains there to this day.
Dzershinsky Square was deserted three hours after midnight when a small group of KGB officers, unaccustomed to looking over their own shoulders, furtively made their way through the clutter and trash littering the square to the fallen statue of their founder. In dark paint they printed out the words on the pedestal that Iron Felix would carry with him into his uncertain future:
DEAR FELIX, WE ARE SORRY THAT
WE COULDN'T SAVE YOU
BUT YOU WILL REMAIN WITH US.
Then they disappeared into the night.(2)
- Bandow, Doug; "Building a New Nation"; <http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-bandow092402.asp>
- Bearden, Milton & Risen, James; "The Main Enemy", P495-510; Printed word, published by Century, ISBN 0-7126-8151-55
- Yablokova, Oksana; "Toppling 'Iron Felix' and the KGB"; <http://www.eng.yabloko.ru/Publ/2002/papers/moscow-times-160902.html>
- (Author unknown); "Keep Iron Felix on the Scrapheap of History"; <http://www.sptimesrussia.com/archive/times/805/opinion/o_7429.htm>