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 (www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1620601.html
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 PublicPpost.ru 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 (www.publicpost.ru/theme/id/3165/chto_eshche_pereimenovat/
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 (kyk-byre.ru/927-rossiyskiy-sud-poshel-protiv-sovesti-radi-krasnyh-vragov-bashkirskogo-naroda.html ).
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 (www.centerasia.ru/issue/2013/5/4503-imena-dlya-ulic-kizila.html).