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Picture This: The Feared Soviet Secret Police Through Kids' Eyes

This children's drawing of two FSB agents detaining someone is titled Capture.
This children's drawing of two FSB agents detaining someone is titled Capture.

The Soviet Union's initial secret-police force, the Cheka, unleashed a wave of executions and torture in the years right after the revolution of 1917 that became known as the Red Terror.

Given that brutal and bloody past, the centenary of its founding might seem like the perfect time to remember its victims.

But that's not how officials in Siberia's Tomsk region see it.

NKVD Struggle With Banderites (click images to enlarge)
NKVD Struggle With Banderites (click images to enlarge)

Instead, local organizers invited schoolchildren aged 3 to 16 to submit drawings "In defense of the Fatherland" to honor the original Cheka and its many successors, including the dreaded NKVD, the KGB, and today's Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

The Cheka was founded by Feliks Dzerzhinsky, known as "Iron Feliks," on December 20, 1917.

Terrorism At Dubrovka
Terrorism At Dubrovka

Sponsored in part by the local FSB office and the government, organizers said the contest aimed to "reflect the activities of the state security agencies, which are inextricably linked with the history of the country."

Aleksei Sevostyanov, the head of the regional information department in Tomsk, praised the children for depicting the "heroism" of the state security apparatus in a "very precise and sincere" way, according to RFE/RL's Sibir.realii.

Beslan. September 1, 2004
Beslan. September 1, 2004

The submissions are evidence that "heroism" comes in many forms. They include titles like The FSB Is Always There, The Capture Of A Terrorist In A Museum, and against the backdrop of war in neighboring Ukraine, another called Struggle Between NKVD Agents And Banderites in a reference to the followers of the World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

The FSB Is Always With Us
The FSB Is Always With Us

Some of the drawings touch on events that might not normally highlight the heroism, nor competence, of Russia's security services.

There are drawings depicting the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis that ended with 334 people dead after a botched rescue, including 186 children. Most of the hostages who died were killed when Russian security forces stormed the school after days of stalemate.

Another depicts the deadly hostage crisis at Moscow's Dubrovka Theater in 2002. That theater seizure by Chechen militants ended when security forces stormed the theater after pumping in toxic gas that neutralized the attackers but also killed many hostages.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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