MOSCOW – Residents of the city of Oryol are campaigning against what has been billed as Russia's first-ever statue of Ivan the Terrible, the 16th-century tsar who is known for carrying out repressions and is said to have killed his own son. Officials want to erect the statue near a children's theater.
Authorities in Oryol plan to put up the statue in time for ceremonies marking the 450th anniversary of the southwestern city, which was founded as a fortress by Ivan IV -- known as "Grozny" or "Terrible."
Some residents are aghast.
"In almost 500 years NO ONE has erected a statue to Ivan the Terrible: no tsar, no emperor, no general secretary, no president," Natalya Golenkova, head of a group protesting the planned statue, wrote on the social network VKontakte.
"There's no Ivan the Terrible even on the Millennium of Russia Memorial," she wrote, referring to a prominent bronze monument in the city of Novgorod that features leading figures from Russia's past.
An online petition against the statue has garnered hundreds of signatures, and a protest was held in Oryol on July 18.
In Russia, what opponents call inappropriate, divisive statues and foolhardy city planning are frequently topics of fierce debate.
The fight in Oryol follows a series of controversies over monuments, including an ongoing debate over plans for an 80-meter statue of Jesus Christ in St. Petersburg, proposals to return a statue of Soviet secret police founder Feliks Dzerzhinsky to the spot where it was toppled in 1991, and efforts to erect a towering monument to Grand Prince Vladimir -- or Volodymyr -- in Moscow.
This time, even state television is questioning the plans.
On July 17, an exasperated-looking news reader on Rossia-1 listed several unpopular statues inthe country including a towering monument to Peter the Great (in Moscow, not St. Petersburg) before saying the decision to put up the statue of Ivan IV in Oryol was made "without taking into account the opinion of residents."
"It's unclear if we can find someone who can stop this 'monumental' irritation -- to stop this fruitless, pointless discussion. As if we don't have more important problems," he said.
Mass Repressions, Secret Police
Ivan the Terrible carried out mass repressions with the oprichnina, which he founded – the original Russian secret police force and a precursor of the Cheka, the NKVD, the KGB, and the FSB.
The author of the petition says the planned site of the statue is inappropriate, and that the Free Territory theater for youth and children on Oryol's Karl Marx Street is a federally protected architectural site. A painting by Russian master Ilya Repin depicts the crazed-looking tsar cradling his bloodied son, whom he is said to have fatally struck with his staff in a fit of rage.
Responding to public concerns about the statue on July 13, regional Governor Vadim Potomsky said the Oryol statue "won't bother anyone," and that the "location was chosen well," the TASS state news agency reported.
Potomsky says he does not believe the tsar killed his son. "Not one source has seen a single official document confirming that Ivan the Terrible killed his son," he told the Moskovsky Komsomolets in an interview published on July 13.
Oryol itself is no stranger to controversy over planned monuments. Last year, residents battled efforts of the powerful local Communist Party to erect a statue to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. They gathered almost 7,000 signatures on a petition against the monument. The authorities ditched the plans as too divisive.
The Ivan the Terrible statue has been condemned from various wings of the political establishment – from liberals like opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov to pro-Kremlin journalist Vladimir Solovyov.