Europe

Soviet 'NKVD' restaurant name triggers Moscow row

Restaurant minus sign, 13 Dec 16
Image caption After a social media storm the restaurant no longer had the name "NKVD" on the wall

A Moscow restaurant calling itself "NKVD" - a chilling echo of the Stalin-era communist terror - drew social media protests and the big sign outside has now been taken down.

Restaurant staff told the BBC they did not know who had removed the letters.

The NKVD was the forerunner of the Soviet KGB secret police. In the 1930s and 1940s the NKVD arrested millions of people and many were executed.

The restaurant sports a big portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Image caption A big Stalin portrait hangs inside the restaurant - a piece of Soviet nostalgia

Stalin's image also featured on the restaurant's menus, but when the BBC visited on Tuesday the barman said the management had told the staff to remove the menus "for now until we get the sign back".

"Look at the wall, the sign was just ripped off," he said, without giving his name.

The restaurant is not far from the Kremlin and the old secret police headquarters, on Ostozhenka Street.

The controversy over the "NKVD" name featured in Russian Vesti TV news - one of the main broadcasts on the state-controlled Rossiya 24 channel.

Image caption Communist symbolism was all over the restaurant menus - but the food was not plain old Soviet fare

Restaurant staff told the BBC that the letters stood for "national cuisine of a great power" in Russian - not for Stalin's secret police.

The barman strongly defended the "NKVD" name.

"I really hope we put it back. Why not? People ask us why NKVD, but why not? It's NKVD and not Gestapo," he said.

Outrage

But some Russians voiced alarm at what appeared to be more whitewashing of history and an insult to Stalin's many victims.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Lawyer Mark Feygin: "It's in central Moscow. Maybe it would have been more cool to call it 'The Five Executions Char Grill'."

Public displays of Stalin portraits were taboo in the last decades of the Soviet Union - but they have reappeared in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Mr Putin has emphasised the sacrifices made by the USSR in World War Two. But he has also acknowledged that Stalin's security apparatus committed terrible crimes.

The NKVD name was possibly an ill-conceived publicity stunt, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Moscow.

The sign caused a stir when human rights lawyer Mark Feygin tweeted a photo of it on 9 December.

Leonid Gozman, of the Russian civil society organisation, Perspektiva Foundation, said "it's a rehabilitation of our country's most tragic episodes.

"I can't imagine a 'Gestapo' restaurant in Munich or Berlin... A lot of our people consider the NKVD to have been a criminal organisation. Many people's relatives suffered or died [in that period]."

One Russian Facebook user, called Therese Philosophe, gave details of four Soviet terror victims who had lived at the address where the restaurant now stands.

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