Sunday, November 17, 2013

indow on Eurasia: Rogozin’s Call for Renaming Russian Far East Won’t Make It Any Closer

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – A millennium ago, Erik the Red decided to call the icy island he had found Greenland in the hopes that such a name would attract more settlers. Now, Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has called for renaming the Russian Far East so that it won’t seem so far away from Moscow. 

Erik the Red’s ploy didn’t work – few Europeans ever moved to Greenland -- and Rogozin’s is unlikely to. But Rogozin’s suggestion may have two unintended consequences.  On the one hand, it may spark more demands for shifting the Russian capital away from Moscow.  And on the other, it may add official legitimacy to regionalist groups in various parts of Russia.

Speaking at the TechnoProm 2013 forum in Novosibirsk on Friday, Rogzin said “I don’t understand what the ‘Far East’ means. How does a citizen of Vladivostok put it that he lives in the Far East of Russia? But why on earth is it a ‘far’ east for him?” (

“We should be naming this part of Russia differently – the Pacific region or in another way. In the beginning as the word, and the boat will sail in the direction the name you give it suggests.” Rogozin added in a Tweet that “the issue is not in the formal renaming but in our attitude and attention to this very promising part of Russia.”
            In reporting his words, the “Siberian Times” newspaper said Rogozin’s statement “is likely to stoke an interesting debate about regional identities,” a prediction that is already being confirmed by comments attached to its article and by a survey of opinion offered by the news agency (
            Asked by the agency whether renaming the Far East would make it “closer,” Grigory Trofimchuk, the first vice president of the Center for the Modeling of Strategic Development, responded that the idea was not Rogozin’s but reflected a longstanding practice among Russian scholars to call it “Pacific Ocean Russia.”
            The name, Russian Far East, has not interfered with anything, Trofimchuk added, “but the new Russia considers that without this key decision things won’t move forward.” Talking about names is easier than addressing problems, he continued.
            But there are places where the names should be changed, Trofimchuk said. The Southern Kurils should be renamed so that the Japanese will forget about them. And after Chekhov’s description of it, Sakhalin clearly needs “linguistic reconstruction.”  Moreover, some of the cities in the Russian Far East could stand renaming if one follows Rogozin’s proposal.
            Among the names that might be introduced, he suggested, are Spassk-Dalny, Dalnerechensk, Dalnegorsk, Berinburg, Barentsbaum, Blizhnekraisk, Tikhozonsk, Novy Smolensk, and Tver Vostochnaya.  And if one really wanted to be creative one could rename the Far East “the Near East,” with apologies to Syria and its neighbors.
            German Yanushevsky, a sociologist, pointed to another problem with renaming.  “Kiev Rus was called ‘a borderland’ of Russia already I the 14th century, and it became independent Ukraine. Western Rus was called ‘white’ and today it is the independent state of Belarus.” The same thing could happen with “a Pacific Region.”
            That enormous territory already has many thinking about “the possibility of separation,” Yanushevsky said. If that trend is to be stopped, Moscow must pay more attention to its needs and ensure that more ethnic Russians “from the central districts” move there.
            “In the West of Rus, the Germans, Poles and Livonians had a strong influence,” and the world sees the result of that. “It is important that the Chinese do not have such influence in the East!”  To that end, the capital of Russia should be moved to the Urals, to Ekaterinburg, which is now the center of the country.
            And Sergey Sibiryakov, who coordinates IAREX’s expert group, summed up reaction to Rogozin’s proposal.  The country has experienced “waves of renaming” not because they were needed but because “they are the most suitable means of imitating activity” that the authorities are capable of coming up with.

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