The Independent Orders of Zhukov, Lenin, and October Revolution Red Banner Operational Purpose Division of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia – yes, my friends, there is such a thing – has just been given back its old name. Now it will again be called the Felix Dzerzhinsky Independent Orders of Zhukov, Lenin and October Revolution Red Banner Operational Purpose Division of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia.
You’ve seen this famous division on TV, perhaps, because it represents all of Russia’s internal, or punitive, troops at the big parades in Red Square. It is this division, in fact, which guarded the proceedings at the Yalta Conference back in the good old days, before losing the honorific “Dzerzhinsky” – and being renamed ODON, a politically neutral acronym for “Independent Operational Purpose Division” – in the salad days of Yeltsin’s interregnum. Naturally! Mobs were busy back then tearing down the giant statue of “Iron Felix” Dzerzhinsky in Lubyanka Square, overlooking the headquarters of the secret police that he had founded (known, kaleidoscopically, over the years as VChK, OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB, KGB, and FSB), and to have kept the punitive division’s name unchanged would have rather given away the plot.
Of late the plot has been thickening. A year ago a proposal to restore the statue of one of the greatest mass murderers of all time, all 11 tons of it, to Lubyanka Square, was mooted at the highest level. Yet, presumably, since this might entail renaming a central square of Moscow back to Dzerzhinsky Square, as it had been called between 1926 – the year the “operational purpose” division was named after him – and 1990, some astute publicist in the Kremlin thought better of it and the proposal was dropped.
But even without Lubyanka, 1,342 squares, avenues, and streets still bear Dzerzhinsky’s name in Russia, and this truly Garibaldian omnipresence does not include numberless villages, farms, factories, parks, ships, and schools. Hermann Goering, who founded the Gestapo in the year Dzerzhinsky’s OGPU became NKVD, was never so lucky, as I doubt that anywhere on earth there is now even a modest kindergarten named after him.
Whatever I think of him as historian and writer, it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago that first impressed the parallel between friends of children like Goering and toilers for peace like Dzerzhinsky upon the Western mind, which brings me round to yet another Orwellian revaluation proceeding apace in Moscow. The editor of Literaturnaya Gazeta, that venerable organ of Soviet as well as post-Soviet intelligentsia, has published an article cautioning the gullible against “excessive excitement around the Alexander Solzhenitsyn centenary” coming up in a few years’ time. After accusing the late author of “warmongering” while in exile in the United States, Yuri Polyakov has called a halt to the current pernicious and lackadaisical attitude to world history, which “should be written with the interests of Russia in mind.”
Obviously it is with the same interests in mind that the Independent Orders of Zhukov, Lenin, and October Revolution Red Banner Operational Purpose Division of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia has just been renamed the Felix Dzerzhinsky Independent Orders of Zhukov, Lenin, and October Revolution Red Banner Operational Purpose Division of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia.