Russia today inaugurated a controversial and first ever monument to Ivan the Terrible, a 16th-century tyrant whose rehabilitation has been lobbied for by officials despite protests from historians and locals.
Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich ruled Russia from 1547 to 1584 and earned the moniker "Terrible" due to his brutal policy of oprichnina, which included the creation of a secret police that spread mass terror and executed thousands of people.
The governor of Russia's Oryol region, some 335 kilometres south of Moscow, has nonetheless backed the monument, saying during its inauguration Friday that Ivan the Terrible "was a defender of our land, a tsar who expanded its frontiers."
Standing before a crowd brandishing black and yellow imperial flags favoured by Russia's nationalists, governor Vadim Potomsky said Ivan the Terrible protected Russia and the Orthodox faith from enemies.
The bronze monument, a figure clad in royal robes sitting on a horse and holding up an Orthodox cross, was erected in the city of Oryol because authorities there say he founded the regional centre.
Historians deny he had ever visited the area.
The monument was also backed by Russia's culture minister, who has argued that Ivan the Terrible's brutal rule is a myth and that his name was tarnished by Western travellers who slandered him in their writings.
Historian Vladislav Nazarov, who specialises in that period, said Ivan the Terrible's rule had precipitated a socioeconomic and political crisis that two decades later led to Russia's first civil war.
Historians have calculated that just in Novgorod, 10 percent of the population -- about 3,000 people -- were executed on Ivan's orders. He also killed his own son, most likely by accident during a violent rage.
On the foreign policy front, "Russia's international standing was weakened along the entire frontier" under his rule, Nazarov said.
"As a historian and a citizen, I am against this monument," he told AFP.
The statue appears as yet another symbol dividing Russian society into those favouring Stalin-like heavy-handed rule and others decrying repression and authoritarianism.
Some Oryol activists staged protests against the monument over several months and even filed lawsuits the city hall's decision to erect it.
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