Is there a modern KGB


Dr. Tatiana Timofeeva

Dr. Tatiana Timofeeva is a German-speaking lecturer at the Chair of Contemporary History at the Faculty of History at Lomonossov University, Moscow, and an expert in dealing with dictatorship.

Work through the Soviet secret service KGB like the Stasi? Impossible. Its files remained largely under lock and key, the interest in processing was marginalized. Impressions from Moscow.

In 1991, the monument to the first Soviet head of the secret service, Felix Dzerzhinsky, was razed on Moscow's Lubyanka Square. The monument was a symbol of Stalin's system of oppression. The domestic secret service FSB still has an office here today. In 1984 at least a small KGB museum was set up in the former KGB building, the "Lubyanka".

In Russia it was only temporarily possible to ask questions about dictatorship research and the reappraisal of the security services as instruments of the constant pressure of power and opinion of the CPSU system. This happened as a result of the "glasnost policy" under Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985 and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, combined with the abolition of the power monopoly of the previously all-powerful CPSU and its ban on August 23, 1991.

Until then, at most "individual errors" by the security organs were discussed in public, but these were only related to the 1930s. With little self-criticism, the KGB leadership published a quite remarkable document in May 1989 with the title: "Overview of the results of the investigation of the attitudes of Soviet citizens to certain aspects of the activities of the security organs". This was an assessment of their own image in the eyes of the population (to be found at As a result, some "worrying tendencies" were identified, but "constant respect" for the secret service was also emphasized. Terror as an essential feature of the KGB's activities was denied and rejected; a dissolution, such as that of the Stasi, was not discussed. According to the document, 90% of the population even wanted "an expansion of the KGB's tasks under the condition of democratization".

According to the KGB paper, citizens were hoping for his help in solving ecological problems and in combating crime, alcoholism and drug addiction. The word "fear" was never used in the document. Conversely, the conclusion drawn from the optimistic claim that two-thirds of intellectuals, 90% of white-collar workers and more than 90% of workers viewed the KGB as very positive. At the end of Soviet history, Russian citizens should accept the importance and necessity of the KGB work.

Bursting crystal image

In the course of "Perestroika", however, the truth and reality of mass terror and the persecution of opposition members were so shockingly demonstrated that the purposefully propagated crystal image of the Chekists with "the warm heart, cold head and clean hands" quickly and thoroughly burst. Pollsters came to a completely different conclusion - in 1991 around 76% of the population rated KGB activity as negative. This was the result of a survey by WZIOM, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion - this institution and the Russian Levada Center are considered to be the most reliable sociological services in Russia. The KGB people, who had previously been ennobled as "knights", were now branded as a kind of devil, their profession was frowned upon - and after the involvement of KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov in the attempted coup against state power in August 1991, the State Security Committee (1954 -1991) dissolved by order of the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin (November 1991). Instead, a Ministry of Security was established in January 1992 and subordinated to the President, and it was subsequently split up into six independent security offices. On April 12, 1995, the unified Federal Security Service (FSB) emerged from it.

“Never again,” Yeltsin said in December 1997, “would the security services serve as bloodhounds for party or state leaders. They will never decide what and how the people may think and say. They will never persecute people for their convictions. "According to this postulate, it was time to reform the entire system of security organs. The" Chekists "appeared disoriented and society split into three almost equally strong opinion groups: for the first The KGB was an “instrument of state terror,” for the second a “guarantor of stability in the USSR.” The third group saw the KGB as responsible for mass crimes in the Soviet Union only until World War II, after which it was on the stabilization of the country been out (WZIOM, sociological surveys 1995), a view shared and formative by many to this day.

The last publicly available survey (Lewada Center, 2008) made this division of the public into three groups clear:
  • For group one (approx. 45%) a positive assessment prevailed ("The main goal of the KGB has always been to defend the state's power interests", "Only experts work there, none of them are stupid", "The KGB led an uncompromising fight against corruption "etc.);
  • for group two (approx. 30%) a constant negative assessment prevailed ("main source of terror and fears", "the goal of this organization was always persecution and denunciations, purges and shootings" etc.);
  • the third group (approx. 15%) did not take a clear position.
  • The assessments were made regardless of age, occupation or level of education, rather family history and political orientation play the main roles.
Up until around 2005-2008, the processing of the security services remained an issue - as a value of the young democracy. In the course of this period, the tremendous feelings of fear of the KGB / FSB that were formulated by group two partially disappeared. Both organizations were not perceived as being of the same nature in public opinion. On the trust scale of state institutions, the secret services now ranked more in the middle, in any case higher than the police or many other organs of power. 33% of the citizens surveyed showed "full confidence" in the security organs, 38% only had "partial" confidence and 14-15% of those surveyed stated that they had no confidence at all in the KGB, FSB or other such services (Lewada Center , 2012). 15% of the respondents left this question unanswered. So Russia's citizens remained rather cautious about the state security organs.

Fear stoked up against the West causes a change in image

Changes became noticeable after 2010. Gradually the state propaganda and the strong influence on the media aroused the feeling of being besieged by unfriendly states. After the expansion of NATO and the "colorful revolutions", like in Ukraine, this was pushed. Pride instead of guilt - this awareness was brought up in order to stabilize Russia internally as a major power.

From the point of view of the perpetrators at the time, the meaning of the former mass terror, which is difficult to understand today, was that there was no separation between internal and external enemies in Soviet society: anyone with a different mind was considered to have been commissioned and paid by foreign countries, which is why they were classified as "hostile agents" an obstacle on the way to socialist unity. A dangerous mixture of such a defensive attitude, shaped by the enemy image, and nationalistic macho feelings became more prevalent in society again after the year 2000. Opinion polls confirmed a steady growth in fears and beliefs that Russia "has powerful enemies who can wage war against us" (45% - 1998, 60% - 1999, 78% - 2010, 82% - 2014, Levada Center) . In this way the security services regained a stronger role, and the longing for successful spies returned. To strengthen the national identity, not only the glorification of the history of the Great Patriotic War, but also the heroic deeds of the Chekists served.

Over the past decade, state propaganda has managed to separate the history of the Soviet and Russian security organs (only about 13% of respondents claim that the methods and goals of the FSB and KGB are closely related) and significantly increase the prestige of these services increase. This tendency developed in correlation with the revival of the "glorious pages" of Soviet history and with a renunciation of the further processing of the power system of totalitarianism - completely different than in Germany after the fall of the GDR with its ever more developed power system from SED and Stasi.
Reminder of the early days of the Stasi: "Stalin is still alive" - ​​warns a banner on November 4, 1989 in Berlin, taken by the MfS with a camera hidden in the former Palace of the Republic. (& copy bpb-DVD "Feindbilder")

But in Russia, together with the increased feeling of being threatened internally from abroad, even the higher wages of the security guards were considered justified and enhancing their reputation, they earn two to three times as much as army soldiers or civilians. The work of the "organs" is seen by many as a guarantee of stability in a complicated economic situation. The hope of an uncompromising fight against widespread corruption also plays a certain role.

Transfer of the archives reversed

The respondents show no pronounced interest in the history of the security services in the USSR. The days of committed discussion are over, the question of the KGB's past has become marginal in public life. The year 1992 plays a special role here: the MSB management at the time succeeded in undoing the planned transfer of most of the KGB archives to the state archival service. The reason was simple: many of the KGB documents are still of acute operational importance today. And so the history of the KGB and its close links with the Stasi remained in the hands of the Chekists, largely inaccessible to scientists or the public. In modern, still different textbooks for history one finds almost exclusively a chronicle of the history of the USSR and Stalin's mass repressions, but the year of the dissolution of the KGB and more in-depth considerations of its work are missing.

One conclusion that can be made is that the processing of the KGB history is not the focus of public interest in Russia, it is rather marginal and there is little fear of its successors. The prestige of the secret services has even increased since 2000, because the West is again suggesting an increasing threat to Russian society. Even so, the FSB has not yet felt any solid support from society or any legal or public support to significantly expand its powers and competencies within the country. On the contrary. Meanwhile, more and more Russians are watching with suspicion how their state deals with opposition members and targeted disinformation campaigns by the secret service, which paint an increasingly gloomy picture of foreigners and opposition members. Like a creeping relapse into an old time. Read more about the role of the KGB in Russia here