Elated by their victory over the reactionary junta, Muscovites destroyed one of the most powerful symbols of their past oppression on Thursday by dismantling a statue of the father of the Soviet secret police, Felix E. Dzerzhinsky.
The crowd cheered wildly and chanted “Down with the KGB!” as yellow, German-made construction cranes lifted the 12-ton bronze monument from its pedestal in the center of a traffic circle just before midnight.
“This is fruit of our victory!” Father Gleb Yakunin, an Orthodox priest, former dissident and leader of Democratic Russia, the radical reform movement, said triumphantly. “It symbolizes that we are now dismantling the system and we will destroy the enormous, dangerous, totalitarian machine of the KGB.”
For several hours, up to 20,000 angry Muscovites had converged around the statue to demand that “Iron Felix” be demolished. While impatiently pressing for its immediate removal, citizens expressed their long-suppressed fury toward the KGB by scrawling expressions such as “Felix, This Is Your End” on the statue’s pedestal and painting gigantic swastikas and messages like “KGB Butchers Must Go to Trial!” on the base of Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters, and nearby buildings.
Not a murmur was heard from officers of the KGB security and espionage agency, who watched from inside, according to police on the scene.
“This is a normal procedure of our purification,” said Anatoly Malykhin, a leader of the coal miners’ labor movement. “It is neither revenge nor a reward. It is a restoration of justice. We are cleaning away the waste from our lives.”
In removing the statue, which had stood since 1958 in front of KGB headquarters, the people were acting out their conviction that they would no longer be frightened into submission by harsh rulers.
Successfully resisting a coup attempt by leaders of the KGB, armed forces and Communist Party, they said, was the proof they needed that they are really free.
During a victory speech earlier in the day at the Russian Parliament building, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin commended the people for “freeing themselves from the fear of the past.”
A crowd of more than 100,000 people--many of whom had held a three-day vigil at the Russian Parliament--basked in the praise of Yeltsin and other top officials, who credited them with bringing down the coup.
“Despite the rain, cold and real threat to your lives, you did not abandon this place, which on the 19th, 20th and 21st of August was the most dangerous (spot) in the capital,” Yeltsin said in a victory address at the Parliament, known as the “White House.” “The people of Russia saved democracy, saved the (Soviet) Union and saved the world.”
Yeltsin told the crowd that there was a proposal to name the plaza “the Square of Free Russia” in their honor and asked them to raise their hands if they were in favor of the name change.
A sea of arms shot up, and Yeltsin said: “The decree will be signed within an hour.”
“Svo-bo-da! Svo-bo-da!” (Russian for “freedom”), the people shouted, pumping their fists in the air.
“I bow low to you,” Ruslan Khasbulatov, acting chairman of the Russian Federation legislature, said to the crowd, expressing his respect for their courage.
Alexander N. Yakovlev, who is known as the author of the reforms implemented by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev over the last six years, said that since 1985 there has been a battle between reformers and “counterrevolutionaries,” but thanks to the people’s resistance to the putsch, this conflict is over.
“I can say that today the people’s revolution has been completed--a real revolution,” Yakovlev said. “At last, today, democracy and freedom have been victorious.”
Former Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze suggested to the crowd that the four people who died in the coup should be buried in the Kremlin Wall, the highest honor for a Russian.
“If there is no space,” Shevardnadze said, “then there are people there we can dig out.”
While Shevardnadze was still speaking, the former flag of the Russian Federation, a red flag with a hammer and sickle and a blue stripe, was hauled down, and the new official flag--the white, blue and red flag of prerevolutionary Russia--was raised for the first time over the Russian Parliament.
The people roared their approval.
In a celebratory march after the meeting, the defenders of the Parliament strode en masse to Red Square.
Several hundred beaming people held the edges of a tricolored flag longer than a football field and carried it toward the Kremlin.
“For three days I was on the square, so I feel a special pride because I know I played a small part in this victory,” Yuri Darimov, an officer of the “Black Beret” special police forces in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said as he walked along the Garden Ring Road grasping a piece of the flag. “I left my beret and arms at home and came to serve Russia. It was clear the only way to win was through a peaceful resistance.”
As the demonstrators passed the Defense Ministry building, one of them shouted out, “Generals, so where are your tanks now?”
His fellow protesters giggled in delight.
Compared to the dozens of demonstrations that have followed the same route over the last two years, there was a strikingly different mood in the air Thursday.
“The atmosphere is completely different, because at last we feel freedom,” said Svetlana V. Akhmedzhanova, 52, a physician and veteran of Moscow pro-reform demonstrations. “We feel as though we have been born again.”
“We have a feeling of joy inside us,” Alexandra Sunyakova, 49, a nurse, said as she and three of her colleagues walked along, clutching each other’s arms and smiling ear to ear. “It’s the first time that we feel we really want to live.”
Many of the demonstrators, however, said they were deeply disappointed that the restored President Mikhail S. Gorbachev--for whom they had risked their lives--had not even appeared at the Russian Parliament to thank them in person.
“Gorbachev has been told about the people’s resistance,” said Rostyaslav Tikhonov, 50, a Russian lawmaker. “But he does not seem to have taken to heart what the people did for him.”
A large banner that hung on the Russian Parliament during the victory meeting read: “Mikhail--Remember Under Whose Flag You Were Saved.”
Twenty-year-old Pavel Marutenkov, who remained at the Russian Parliament throughout the tense days, and many other people said there should be immediate elections to replace Gorbachev.
“Gorbachev should resign,” said Marutenkov, who wore a grimy jogging suit. “He’s the one who appointed the people who instigated the coup, so he’s responsible for what they did.”
Andrei Ostroukh, a translator in The Times’ Moscow Bureau, contributed to this report.