The Fall of Iron Felix
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
During the Soviet times, the head of its feared secret police (which underwent so many different name changes, the most enduring being KGB) occupies a third floor office in Lubyanka Building overlooking the large statue of Feliks Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky. Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the feared Cheka, Lenin’s secret police, which specialized in state terror and was the forerunner of the Soviet KGB. Dzerzhinsky was there at Lenin’s side when the Bolsheviks, then a minority party, took control of the February revolution, and was also there as a pallbearer at Lenin’s funeral.
On August 18th 1991, hardliners in the Communist Party demanded the resignation of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. When he refused, they held him prisoner at his summer dacha and declared his resignation due to ‘ill health’. The next day, tanks rolled into Moscow to protect the Russian Parliament. In the end, the hardliners failed to win over the military and the KGB and the coup fell apart within three days.
Most of the Western photographers in Moscow were on their August vacation and the events were recorded by two AP photographers, Olga Shalygin and Alexander Zemlianichenko, who won the Pulitzers for AP the next year. On the night of 23/24 August, Zemlianichenko documented the statue of the Iron Felix being toppled by a cheering crowd. As with many Soviet monuments, it was so well constructed that it could not be simply torn down – it took five heavy-duty cranes to lift it and topple it. The statue that came to symbolize the terror committed in the name of the revolutionary cause was one of the most reviled symbols of Soviet rule, and its toppling end of an era.