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In Russia, a Pop Culture Coup for the KGB

The waitresses wear the green shirts and white blouses with shoulder boards of the Soviet functionary, and the chef worked at the Kremlin when Leonid Brezhnev was in power.

The dining room is dominated by a copy of a famous statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of another Soviet-era security agency, the NKVD.


Konstantin Piskaryov and a bust of Yuri Andropov in his Moscow restaurant, the Shield and the Sword. (Peter Finn -- The Washington Post)

Beria's grandson dines here from time to time, and the family of former KGB head and Communist Party General Secretary Yuri Andropov, whose bust is in the lobby, celebrated the 90th anniversary of his birth at the restaurant, according to the owner, Konstantin Piskaryov, whose grandfather was an NKVD colonel. Most of the customers, he says, are in the current security services and "they enjoy it here."

Asked about displaying images of such bloodstained figures as Beria, Piskaryov replies: "My attitude is no matter what kind of people they were, they are a part of our history. Time and history will prove who did the best for our country."

Also getting glory treatment are the country's current security services, through such TV series as "National Security Agent," "Liquidator" and "The Motherland Is Waiting."

Even a popular early-1990s song, "Accountant," about a woman who pines for such a husband, has had its lyrics updated to reflect the new mood. That new version's title is "Operational Agent."

Attitudes toward the old enemy, the United States, are ambivalent in the shows and novels. Russia and America are allied in some, but in others a nefarious United States seeks to encircle and weaken Russia. In "White Legion" by Ilya Ryasnoi, a best-selling novel with a contemporary setting, Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms are cast as a CIA plot and the chaotic post-Communist society is saved from complete ruin by a secret network of former KGB officers.

"Much of this literature is anti-liberal," the editor Ivanova says. "I don't think these writers receive some kind of order from the Kremlin. They are catching their wishes; they feel the turn of the times. But the trend puts one on guard. I want to live in a free country, without the idea that the control of the special services is essential to stability or that we need to revive an empire."

"Personal Number," a new movie with a $7 million budget, huge for Russia, dramatizes many of the Kremlin's domestic and foreign policy concerns, drawing from recent events, such as the seizure of a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels in 2002.

In its narrative, an exiled tycoon works with Chechen and Arab terrorists, including an Osama bin Laden-type figure, to seize a circus in Moscow. The film dwells on the faces of the child hostages, eliciting ripples of dread from audiences here.

In the end, the Arabs betray the Chechens; the tycoon who had hoped to topple the government returns to London, where a number of Putin's enemies have ended up. The bin Laden figure finds refuge in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, which Russia has long claimed is a sanctuary for terrorists.

An FSB officer, in the mold of Bruce Willis in "Die Hard," saves the day, foiling a plot to use a plane to detonate a radioactive bomb over Rome.

"The movie gives people the confidence they are being protected," says Sergei Gribkov, the producer of the film. "It gives the country the opportunity to show its power to resist. And it helps the security services with motivation." The FSB and the government provided warplanes, attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers to help with verisimilitude.

"We not only wanted to create a positive image of the FSB, we want people to understand that the most serious issue of our time, one discussed by the U.S. president, is the issue of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists," Gribkov says. "It is the task of any state to help with this kind of movie."


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