A bimonthly magazine on international affairs, edited in Germany's capital

The Use and Abuse of History


The peculiar ways President Vladimir Putin’s regime understands Russia’s past are feeding the current conflict with the West.


© REUTERS/Viktor Korotayev

Figures from the past – from medieval Slavic princes to the 19th century czars to Lenin and Stalin – are a constant presence in Russia’s daily news cycle. And even though many of those figures are literally set in stone, political interpretations of their legacies are in flux: just recently, Moscow’s municipal authorities agreed to hold a referendum proposed by the Communist party on restoring the statue of “Iron Felix” to its former site in front of the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in central Moscow. “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish-born Bolshevik, was the founder of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police and precursor to the KGB and the modern-day FSB. In August 1991, after the failure of the Communist hard-liner coup, the Moscow City Council’s decision to get rid of the dreaded secret police chief’s statue enjoyed broad emotional support. (It was harder to agree on numerous bronze and granite Lenins; hundreds still stand on their pedestals throughout Russia.) Toppling the Dzerzhinsky statue was post-Soviet Russia’s first symbolic act; its restoration today would be no less symbolic.

Read the complete article in the Berlin Policy Journal App – July/August 2015 issue.