The history of the secret police of Russia from the days of the czars to the present is quite convoluted, which is, perhaps, to be expected. The organization has gone through many names and many leaders.
Under the czars, the Okhrana, or the Guard, was created to protect the royal family and its staff from assassination attempts. After the Revolution, at the end of 1917, the Okhrana inspired the Cheka, or Extraordinary Commission, under Felix Dzerzhinsky, who reported directly to Lenin. After Lenin’s death in 1922, the Cheka was reorganized and became the GPU, or State Political Administration.
The following year, the name was changed to the OGPU, or United State Political Administration. Eleven years later, in 1934, Stalin murdered the ranking officers of the OGPU and formed theNKVD, or People’s Commisariat of International Affairs. In 1941, Stalin renamed the organization NKGB, or People’s Commisariat of State Security. Five years later it was renamed once more, this time the MGB, or Ministry of State Security. It wasn’t until 1954, however, that the name KGB, or Committee of State Security, was adopted. Who knows when the next change will come.
Col. Nikolai Zhenya of the KGB knew this history well. He considered that history and his own future as he stood at the window of his office at 22 Lubyanka, the Moscow home of both KGB headquarters and the Lubyanka Prison. It was a new office into which the colonel had moved only days before, a larger office, to signify his rapid rise. The lead of the recent coat of gray paint on the walls scratched at his palate and nostrils.
To mask the taste and odor, Zhenya took a long drink from the cup of tepid tea he held in his hand. Nothing changed.
He looked around the office-new desk, new chairs, new photograph of Lenin, but a much smaller, safer photograph of Lenin, a photograph that could easily and quickly be taken down, placed in a file-cabinet drawer, and replaced with a photograph of the Kremlin at dusk. He knew there were those inside the offices around him who were considering whether they should now remove the traditional pictures of Lenin and be just a bit ahead of the other officers on the floor. Or should they wait in case the political tides so changed that their loyalty to revolutionary idealism would be admired while their carefully timed discretion would be respected? It was a game of survival, dependent not upon one’s true beliefs but upon the illusion one could maintain about beliefs.
There were quiet moments like this before the day began, before the first knock at his door, when Colonel Zhenya wondered how long he would be able to enjoy his most recent promotion.
Colonel Zhenya, who had risen rapidly through the ranks and was now, at forty-five, one of the youngest colonels in any branch of the KGB, had never truly enjoyed his successes. He had considered each betrayal, each manipulation, each intrigue in which he had engaged, a fragile rung, one as fine as a spider’s thread in the ladder upward. There was no goal but to keep climbing, to keep distancing oneself farther and farther from the bottom.
The colonel, who was rapidly losing his hair and had taken to brushing it straight and severely back, pushed aside the white curtains and looked down at the traffic that swirled
around the thirty-six-foot-high statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky in the square below.
Dzerzhinsky had organized the Cheka- the organization that had paved the way for the KGB, “the sword of the Revolution”-for Lenin.
Now the sword of the Revolution was in the hands of the moderates, and they could not even use it to cut cheese. The sword was poised over Colonel Zhenya’s head.
The colonel’s office was on the top floor, and above him, since it was shortly after five in the morning, he could hear the political prisoners being exercised on the roof, their synchronized steps tramping like sheets of heavy rain.