Belarus Unveils Monument To Secret Police
A monument to Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky was unveiled Friday in the Belarusian capital Minsk, provoking protests from human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

Dzerzhinsky, reviled by critics of the Soviet era, helped establish the first Soviet secret service, called the Cheka, in 1917 under Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. The Cheka, a forerunner of the KGB, was responsible for mass arrests and executions.

The towering 10-foot bronze figure, a copy of the statue of Dzerzhinsky that pro-democracy crowds tore down in front of KGB headquarters in Moscow in 1991, occupies a spot inside the grounds of the Military Academy. Dzerzhinsky was known as 'Iron Felix." He was born in modern-day Belarus.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an open admirer of the Soviet Union and a pariah to the West because of his government's crackdown on dissent and the media, has kept the Soviet-era acronym KGB for Belarus' security service.

Stepan Sukhorenko, head of the Belarus' KGB, attended the ceremony unveiling the stature.

Oleg Gulak of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee rights group condemned the move as "an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the repressive machine founded by Iron Felix."

The leader of the Social-Democratic Party, Nikolai Statkevich, insisted that Dzerzhinsky was not "a figure of Belarusian history we should be proud of."

The head of the Belarusian border guard service, Gen. Alexander Pavlosvsky, defended the decision to erect a statue of Dzerzhinsky next to the faculty for frontier guard officers.

"We shouldn't be afraid of our history and people who gave birth to a new state, fought for it and were heroes," he said. "Dzerzhinsky was not an odious figure, he is someone who merits respect."