Sunday, October 25, 2020

New Renaming Drive in Russia Not about Politics but about Recovering Local Identities, Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – After the disintegration of the USSR, many cities and villages renamed themselves or their streets to separate themselves from the Soviet past. That drive ebbed after the mid-1990s, but now renaming streets is again gaining momentum but this time to highlight local identities rather than rejecting Soviet past, Pavel Gnilorybov says.

            The comments of Gnilorybov, a historian who heads the Architectural Excesses organization, came in response to a decision by Tarusa city authorities to restore pre-1917 names to 13 streets and call three others by new names (

            The small city – with fewer than 10,000 residents – is better known than many of similar size because it is situated in Kaluga Oblast 130 kilometers from Moscow and thus, in Soviet times, was a popular place for dachas because dissidents banned from living closer to the capital than 101 kilometers could settle there. \

            The KPRF has objected to the city’s actions, but Gnilorybov points out that the communists have never explained why the only part of Tarusa’s history that matters is the Soviet period and continue to ignore that what is going on is not directed against that period but rather to serve as an affirmation of the city’s local history and traditions.

            He argues that everyone needs to recognize that renaming streets now is not about politics but about local identities. People want to focus on their immediate neighborhoods rather than on some distant all-Russian or even larger self-definition. And in that is the critical difference between renaming now and the renaming craze of the early 1990s.

            He points out that “the most massive renaming took place during the period of early Russian democracy in 1993-1994 in Moscow, when inside the Garden Ring, approximately a third of all streets were renamed,” reversing the Bolshevik-imposed nomenclature. Despite predictions to the contrary, people adjusted to the new names quickly and easily.

            In recent years, renaming has become more common in regional centers like Ioshkar-Ola, Yaroslavl Oblast, Belgorod, and Pskov. Gnilorybov expects the changes in Tarusa to encourage other locales to rename streets not to divide themselves from any part of the past but to underscore their unique local sense of themselves.


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