The once dreaded KGB isn't the KGB any more. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union four years ago, it has had six name changes and is now known under the mild title of the Federal Security Service. But a lot of things haven't changed, and the former KGB apparatus is quietly being strengthened by that supposed democrat, President Boris Yeltsin.
A great many people inside and outside of Russia are worried about what it all means. The name changes haven't convinced many people. Most Russians still refer to the secret police organization as the KGB.Russia is in economic and political turmoil. The communist political system has collapsed and the only two significant power centers are the army and the KGB, whatever its current alias may be. By strengthening the KGB and winning its loyalty, Yeltsin may be trying to assure the reformers of their own continued survival and clout. Let's hope he isn't using the KGB to guarantee his own control of political office.
But that is a dangerous game to play. The KGB is capable of seizing control in its own right, and giving it more power may lead down that path instead of keeping alive the struggle for a democratic government.
The once mighty KGB stretched across the entire Soviet empire, including Eastern Europe, enforcing communist rule with an iron fist and imposing its own terror. That empire no longer exists, but inside Russia the KGB must still be reckoned with.
Yeltsin has transferred anti-terrorism units from the Interior Ministry to the KGB-Federal Security Service, has ousted reformers and has signed a new law giving the secret police power to run its own prisons and raid private businesses or residences without a warrant.
Members of Russia's Parliament admit they have no control over the former KGB except to approve a general budget lacking in details. The number of employees and budget specifics are secret. There has been no attempt to dismantle or reorganize the KGB after the fall of communism.
While Yeltsin has partially opened former Communist Party and Kremlin archives, the KGB archives have remained tightly closed.
All of this is a blunt reminder that the democratic tradition is still foreign to Russians. After all, they have had no experience with it in their thousand-year history. Democracy and free enterprise are not strong in Russia. Russia cannot be considered firmly on the road to a free society until it scraps the KGB and relies on local, non-secret police forces to maintain order.