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The KGB's Old Headquarters Lives On

December 11, 2014 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Red Square is one of the world’s most iconic locales. Dominated by the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and GUM Department Store, the space looks little different from Soviet times. While Lenin’s mausoleum remains, any hint of menace is gone. Indeed, even during the worst of the USSR the square was more symbolic than threatening. For the most part no one went to the Kremlin to die.

Very different, however, is Lubyanka, just a short walk up Teatralny Proezd past the Bentley and Maserati dealerships.

In the late nineteenth century 15 insurance companies congregated on Great Lubyanka Street, prospering as the great czarist despotism entered the industrial age. The Rossia agency, one of Russia’s largest, completed an office building in 1900. Excess space was turned into apartments and leased out to retailers selling everything from books to beds.

The building was profitable, but 14 years later in his worst single decision the foolish czar led his country into the abyss of World War I. In 1917 he was ousted by a moderate revolution, which in turn was overthrown by the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin. They nationalized insurance companies along with much of the rest of the economy, and switched Russia’s capital from Petrograd to Moscow. As a result, the Rossia building at No. 2 Great Lubyanka Street became the new regime’s property. And the new secret police, known as the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, or Cheka, evicted the rest of the tenants and settled in.

The building was renovated and merged with a new structure behind the original one. The most important “improvements” were made inside, however, such as increasing prison space. With further reconstruction and expansion the building took its present form. The KGB added two more buildings over the years. After all, the secret police had much to do: a dictatorship’s work is never done.

The Lubyanka continues to glower over Russia.”

The first Cheka head was Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Russian Pole born in 1877. He conducted the infamous “Red Terror,” what he called a “fight to the finish” against the Bolsheviks’ political opponents. As part of that campaign he personally approved the torture and murder of thousands. He wrote: “Kill without investigation, so that they will be afraid.” And the agency did so. Of course, not every prisoner was murdered, so the first concentration camps were established in 1918. In a testament …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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