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Russian Activists Condemn Communist Street Names


In 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Moscow City Council changed the names of many, but not all, city streets that honored communist leaders associated with Soviet atrocities. Today, Russian civic activists are calling for a completion of the renaming process. But as VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports, many city residents are comfortable with current names and are not aware of the bloody history they represent.

During the Soviet era, the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg was called Sverdlovsk in honor of Bolshevik revolutionary Yakov Sverdlov, who helped organize the murder of Russia's last czar, Nicholas II and his family 90 years ago. A monument to Sverdlov still stands in the city.

Civic activists in Moscow have launched a campaign to remove monuments and to rename Russian streets and places that honor communist leaders.

Vladimir Lavrov, a historian at the Russian Academy of Sciences, says street names reflect a nation's values.

Lavrov says there is an absence of a certain world view in Russia; an indiscriminate world view and lack of direction, which confuses and disorients people, in particular the youth.

1905 Street in central Moscow is named after a violent uprising against the czarist regime that year. Bolsheviks consider the rebellion to have been a precursor of the 1917 Communist Revolution.

Activists today are seeking to return the street's pre-Communist name, New Jerusalem Street, saying people would associate it with peace and God, rather than guns and bloodshed.

But an informal sampling of local residents indicates little popular demand for change.

Sergei is a college student. He admits he does not know enough history about the 1905 uprising and the earlier name of his street, New Jerusalem. But given what little he knows, he says he likes the name '1905' better.

Vladimir Lavrov suggests that ignorance of history is reflected in the contradictory results of a recent public-opinion survey to name the 50 greatest Russians. Coming on top were Czar Nicholas, who was murdered by the communists, and Josef Stalin - arguably the greatest mass murderer in history. The historian says continued veneration of the communist dictator elicits fear of Russia.

Lavrov says continued reverence for Stalin provides an excuse to those who already hate Russia, and a reason for other countries to do everything to wall themselves off from us, which includes joining NATO, or deploying a missile defense system on their territory.

The headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service is located on a square once named after Felix Dzherzinsky, former head of FSB's predecessor - the KGB that persecuted countless millions through the 1980's. The square has been renamed Lubyanka Square, a traditional name.

But political observer Masha Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Center says name changes do not change reality.

"Given the fact that Putin's main pool of personnel was and remains today the successor to the KGB, the Federal Security Service in Russia, this is an issue that the nation is absolutely averse to reckoning with," Lipman said. "And renaming the streets named after figures from the distant past will change nothing in the perception of the Russian people."

Lipman notes that even superficial condemnation of communism is better than none at all. Nonetheless, she says it is important Russians not mistake the superficial with a necessary national reckoning with their country's dark Soviet past.

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