Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lubyanka about Far More than Russian Security Services

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – For all Russians and most others, the name “Lubyanka” stands for the KGB in Soviet times and the FSB now because it is on that square that the headquarters of the dreaded security and intelligence services are located.  But in fact, as a new book shows, the Lubyanka is about far more than that.

            In a new book, entitled simply Lubyanka (in Russian; Moscow, 2018, 416 pp.), Moscow historian Vladimir Muravyev says that the square and the area around it has a rich history and certainly deserves to be known for more than just the offices of the KGB or FSB.  Nezavisimaya gazeta reviews the book today (

            There is no agreement on the etymology of the word Lubyanka, Muravyev says. Some historians believe that it is related to a place where people in the 12th and 13th centuries gathered bark from trees in a forest for bast sandals and other goods.  Others suggest it arose in the 17th century because such goods were traded there.

            And still others say, the historian continues, that the name was given to the place because Ivan III resettled some people from Novgorod there after the defeat of that outpost of Russian democracy because there was a Lubyanka street and district in their home city. If so, the name today and what it is associated with is especially ironic. 

            Regardless of the source of the name, Muravyev continues, the Lubyanka is one of the most ancient places in the city, going back to the period even before the city was formally established.  It became the sites of the palaces of the princes Khovansky and Obolensky and was the residence of the Russian archers.

            It might have been given other names, especially after the Kitay gorod district was established, but the population always has referred to it as the Lubyanka.  Its current configuration and size were established in the 1870s, although fires and urban renewal have eliminated some of the most important historical buildings.

            Perhaps the most noteworthy building on the Lubyanka before the KGB headquarters was the palace of Fyodor Rostopchin, the governor general of Moscow at the time of Napoleon’s attack on the city. Many who fought at Borodino were treated in his house, and he directed the evacuation of the city from there.

            Many buildings were destroyed as the city was transformed in the 1930s and after World War II.  The palace of Prince Dmitry Pozharsky who fought against the Poles was torn down in the first period, and in 1957, many other buildings were removed in order to make room for the Children’s World department store. 

            But the most remarkable development in the last century has been the rise of “a whole ‘Chekist quarter’” with the centerpiece being the building many try to avoid because of its associations with the terror even though it began life as the headquarters of the Russian-American life insurance company.

Non-Russian Republic ‘Embassies’ in Moscow Assuming New Prominence

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Just as the offices of the union republics in Moscow acquired added importance as the Soviet Union headed toward its demise, offices many informally called “embassies” which they in fact became after the republics gained independence, so too the analogous offices of non-Russian republics in Moscow now are also becoming more prominent.

            Known as the permanent representations of this or that republic attached to the President of the Russian Federation, these institutions seldom have attracted much attention. Indeed, one can go for months without seeing any reference to them in the Moscow media, although they do get more coverage in republic outlets.

            The last ten days, however, have been exceptional because there have been changes at the top of the permanent representations in Moscow of both Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, with the official leaving that post for a higher one in his own republic giving a major interview about what he and the Bashkir “embassy” in Moscow have been doing (

            Farkhad Samedov, who had been Bashkortostan’s permanent representative in Moscow since July and now has returned to serve as a new advisor to republic head Radiy Khabirov, says that his office, like those of other republics, was assuming a more active role as a result of Vladimir Putin’s new program for social development over the next six years.

            But coordinating activities between Moscow and Ufa was only one of his jobs, Samedov says. He also worked to attract investments to the republic, organizing meetings between businessmen and republic officials. The permanent representative also worked with Bashkirs visiting Moscow or living there and with Moscow city, Moscow region and adjoining areas.

            According to Samedov, one of his most important tasks was promoting Bashkortostan as “a brand,” by giving presentations about the republic to interested individuals and groups. He says that the office had grown to 40 employees and that he expects further growth in its size and activities in 2019.

            Also this week, the president of Tatarstan appointed two new deputy permanent representatives to his republic’s Moscow office, an indication that Tatarstan’s “embassy” is also becoming larger and more important as a link between Moscow and Kazan (

            A little more than two years ago, Novaya gazeta offered a 4,000-word window on these institutions in the Russian Federation, which even though it was dismissive nonetheless had the effect of calling attention to the continuing and perhaps growing important of the permanent representations (

            That article and the comments appended to it suggested that “from the era of the parade of sovereignties remains something rudimentary, buildings in the center [of Moscow] occupied by the permanent representatives of the regions. They have no real power or serious tasks but they do have staffs, salaries and parking places.”

            But such a characterization is wrong in at least three ways: First, these institutions trace their origins not to the late 1980s but rather to the dawn of the Soviet period when they were set up to ensure communication between Moscow and the regions and republics of the country.  On that, see Peter J. Potichnyj, “Permanent Representations (Postpredstva) of Union Republics in Moscow,” Review of Socialist Law, 7:1 (1981), pp. 113.-132.
            Second, it ignores the consular functions these institutions perform not only for officials from regions and republics but for students from them who are enrolled in Moscow institutions as well as for people in the regions and republics who are having problems with particular Moscow institutions, including but not limited to the defense ministry.
            And third, it fails to capture the symbolic and practical role these institutions played for the union republics in Gorbachev’s time when they were used by senior republic officials to reach out to foreign governments and ultimately became the foundations on which the embassies of the former Soviet republics were built.
            Under the first and last Soviet president, the Moscow media had fun with the fact that the Armenian SSR used its first computer to create a dating service for ethnic Armenians in the Soviet capital so that they could more easily meet other Armenians rather than have to date anyone else.
            But the media generally ignored what was perhaps the high point of the existence of these Soviet institutions: the decision of Heidar Aliyev to go to the Azerbaijani SSR permanent representation in Moscow to denounce Gorbachev’s dispatch of troops there in January 1990 (
            These institutions are not just of historical interest, as the reports from Ufa and Kazan highlight although some in the Putin regime may want to do what even Stalin did not: closing these institutions down, perhaps fearful that their symbolism as proto-embassies for republics and regions in the Russian Federation is something he no longer wants to put up with.
            Indeed, the permanent representations remain both practically and symbolically important for many regions and republics. Among the developments in the last decade that are especially worthy of note are these:
·         Despite their costs, 75 percent of the federal subjects do maintain them in Moscow ( and when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea, that region opened its office in Moscow as well.

·           The permanent representations cooperate with each other and make contact with foreign embassies as well. They have sought, so far without success, to gain official recognition for their collective activities (

·         Some republics, like Daghestan and Chechnya, have opened similar offices across the Russian Federation ( and

·         At least one, Tuva, has drawn on the model to open an office in Mongolia (

·         The Adygeya representation is now teaching Circassian to Circassians in Moscow  (, and the Kalmyk one has been instrumental in expanding investment in that republic (

‘Russian Doesn’t Mean Orthodox,’ Levada Center Poll Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Only nine percent of Russians connect their national identity with Orthodoxy, according to a new Levada Center poll; and even among those who identify as active measure of the Russian Orthodox Church, only 19 percent do so, figures that are dwarfed by the 53 percent who say their identity is based on the country’s history. 

            These figures help to explain, the polling service says, why most Russians have been far less agitated by the Ukrainian church gaining autocephaly than have the political and religious establishment. Indeed, as recently as December, only 27 percent of Russians said they’d hear about Ukrainian autocephaly and 36 percent more said they were completely indifferent about it (

                And that in turn means, although it is a point that Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist Andrey Melnikov does not make in reporting these figures today, that President Putin and Patriarch Kirill will not get the boost they seem to hope for by pushing Ukraine into a state of religious war. That simply isn’t an issue most Russians will even focus on. 

            Melnikov does acknowledge, however, that “even the representatives of the Russian Orthodox church admit that real participation in religious life is characteristic of only an extremely small share of the citizens of Russia. Russians today overwhelmingly don’t participate in church life, don’t know about the faith, and don’t see it as part of their identity.