Sunday, February 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Renaming Craze in Russia Extends from Stalingrad to the Street Level

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 10 – Discussions about restoring the Soviet-era name Staliningrad or the tsarist name Tsaritsyn to Volgograd either a few days a year or permanently are the tip of the iceberg of a much larger phenomenon: ongoing fights about renaming not just cities but individual streets, fights that are reopening wounds left over from 70 years of communist rule.

            Perhaps the second most intense debates after the ones about Volgograd involve the city of Kaliningrad, the capital of the non-contiguous portion of the Russian Federation which Stalin added to the USSR from German territory at the end of World War II and that most Russians continue to view as an appropriate trophy of war.
            A few weeks ago, 400 residents of the city petitioned its government to change the name back to its German original Koenigsberg, and the local paper, “Kaliningradskaya Pravda,” published a survey on this question in which “all respondents” supported renaming the city, “including one veteran” of World War II (

            That veteran, one Reno Komarovsky, advanced an argument like many Soviet veterans of the Stalingrad battle have.  He said that he “would leave the name Koenigsberg, exclusively out of respect for history,” noting that he had “taken Koenigsberg and fought for this beautiful European city.”

            He recalled that at the end of the war, there were rumors that the city would be renamed in honor of Stalin. That didn’t happen. Instead, “they named in honor of Kalinin, a party leader. And what now?  There was a Kaliningrad in Podmoskovye, bu tit has been renamed. Kalinin was renamed Perm.  There’s too much honor being shown to Kalinin” and others like him. 

            And Koarovsky concluded that “the name Koenigsberg does not glorify any German figure or fascism. It is a good name.”

            Aleksey Leonov, a cosmonaut who grew up in Kaliningrad, agreed. He told the paper he had been for renaming the place for a long time. Koenigsberg doesn’t have anything in common with Nazism. Instead, it is “a city of science, students and peace … And how are we to explain to young people who this Kalinin was? What did he do for the fatherland? Sign shooting orders?”

            But the Regnum news agency said, “NewsBalt” had identified “who stands behind this initiative.” They include Mikhail Kostyayev,  an anti-nuclear activist, Russtam Vasiliyev, a former member of the Baltic Republican Party, and Dmitry Karpovich and Vladimmir Khodayev, organizers of the Prussian March.

            Meanwhile, the portal, suggested a number of cities across the country that officials might choose to rename “either temporarily [on holidays] or permanently” and specifying precisely the holidays that such re-namings might most appropriately occur (

            Among them, St. Petersburg could again become Leningrad at least on January 18 when Russians mark the end of the blockade of that city, the portal suggested.  Gatchina could become Trotsk [for Trotsky], perhaps on the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland on February 23, the Russian extension of the Day of the Red Army and Fleet.

            Perm could become Molotov once again at least when Russia commemorates the Great Fatherland War, it added. Krasnodar could become Yekaterinodar permanently as the Cossacks want.  Novomoskovsk could become Stalinogorsk when Russia marks Victory Day And Kaliningrad could be called Koenigsberg, at least on April 22, the birthday of Immanuel Kant.

            But these conflicts over names of cities may not be as meaningful for many in the Russian Federation as the increasingly intense disputes over the names of their city streets.  In Irkutsk, a large group of historians and architects petitioned the city to stop changing names lest people become confused as the historic face of that city is lost.

            And they pointed out that most streets there have had many names, some post-Soviet, some Soviet, and some pre-Soviet, which have lasted more or less time and passed into the memory of the population, and the petitioners asked, not implausiblye “which of these is ‘the more historical?” (

                In Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, communist activists have re-opened the controversy from July 2008 when the city government renamed Frunze Street in honor of Zeli Velidi, a Bashkir nationalist who in emigration had dealings with the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s ( ).

                And in the Tuvan capital of Kyzyl, residents have another problem: many of their streets do not have any names at all, sparking confusion and prompting demands that the city arrange things so that no one will have to live on a nameless street and not be able to tell his friends where he lives (

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