OREL, Russia (AP) — Despite protests and court battles, the Russian city of Orel has unveiled the country's first monument to Ivan the Terrible, the bloody 16th-century czar who massacred his subjects by the thousands and even reportedly killed his own son.
At a ceremony Friday, officials inaugurated the statue of Ivan on horseback, wielding both a sword and a cross, in the city (pronounced ahr-YOL) 350 kilometers (225 miles) south of Moscow. The region's governor likened the brutal czar — favorably — to current Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"We have a great, powerful president who has forced the whole world to respect and defer to Russia — just like Ivan the Terrible did in his time," Vadim Potomsky said at the ceremony.
Ivan, who reigned from 1547 to 1584, was responsible for violence including the Novgorod Massacre, which killed thousands. But he is also respected as both key to Russia's establishing itself as an empire and as a patron of the arts, including commissioning the landmark St. Basil's Cathedral, which dominates Red Square in Moscow.
The czar's moniker reflects his mixed reputation — in Russian, it can mean not only "terrible" but also "formidable."
The erection of the statue comes as Russia, encouraged by Putin, is undergoing a broad reassessment of its history. The current Russian narrative justifies violence and repression if it's seen as having been necessary to strengthen the Russian state, including atrocities ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Among the crowd of 1,000 who witnessed the monument's inauguration in Orel was Alexander Zaldostanov, the burly leader of the pro-Putin biker group Night Wolves.
On the other side of the political spectrum, some activists in Orel had held protests against the statue and launched an unsuccessful court attempt to block it. One of them, Natalia Golenkova, told The Associated Press she had been assaulted walking home one night and warned to stop her opposition to the statute.
"Who was a fan of Ivan the Terrible? Stalin," she said. "Tyrants love tyrants."