Translator’s Note: This caught my eye today as it rather continues the thought I was illustrating recently about how Russia and the Soviet Union before it seem to think that vile crimes can be whitewashed by awarding medals to the perpetrators of crimes instead of prosecuting them. The article below by EJ’s Kara-Murza is about the poor places in Russia lumbered with the names of executioners instead of their proper names.
Executioners on the Map in Russia
Vladimir Kara-Murza (Jr.)
21 July 2009
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
I never thought that I would ever find myself in agreement with Vladimir Ivanovich Yakunin about anything. A former KGB man (it is rumoured that Vladimir Ivanovich worked in the KGB’s New York residency in the 1980s), a current member of the Ozero dacha compound, the director of a number of companies, the patron of various “state-patriotic” organisations, and the head of RZhD Russian railways, Yakunin could serve as a generic portrait of the Russian élite in the age of the Chekist kleptocracy.
In early July, however, the State Railways Corporation issued an instruction that Moscow’s Leningrad Station was to revert to its historic name – Nikolayev Station – and made it known that this was not the last name change that would take place. The instruction remained in force for no more than a few hours: after an urgent telephone call from on high, it was rescinded and the Moscow map reacquired a railway station named after a non-existent city, which itself was named after the pseudonym of the founder of one of the cruellest and bloodiest régimes the world has ever seen.
This railway station affair, one can readily imagine, will surely put paid to any further contemplation of reformist ideas by the head of RZhD. But a broken watch shows the right time twice a day for all that.
No one is surprised to hear that Adolf-Hitler-Platz is not on any Berlin map. That was the square’s name from 1933-1945 but it is now Theodor-Heuss-Platz. Nor can one find a Hermann-Goering-Strasse. It was there between 1935-1945 and is now Ebertstrasse.
Why then do towns and streets in our country continue to bear the names of executioners who flooded them with blood, robbed them of their riches, and destroyed the spiritual and cultural heritage, the names of men who shot and exiled peasants, priests, and writers, killing all that was good, vital, and creative in the Russian people?
Why are there still districts in Novosibirsk, Volgograd, and Perm named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the creator of the machine of state terror, under whose personal leadership over 1½ million people were massacred in the first years following the October coup? Why does the largest oblast (region) in the Urals continue to bear the name of Yakov Sverdlov, the author of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee’s decree of 2 September 1918 announcing the terror against “enemies of the revolution” as the official policy of the Soviet government? Why is it that St. Petersburg, the spiritual home of Russian parliamentarism, still retains a Sailor Zheleznyak Street? This person, whose real name was Anatoli Zheleznyakov, is a symbol of the Bolshevik usurpation of power and his claim to fame is that he interrupted the last sessions of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly with the words “Us workers don’t want any more of your yapping. The guards are getting bored”. Why does Moscow still have an Andropov Prospekt (Avenue), in honour of the person who inspired the school of punitive psychiatry, who initiated the expulsions of Solzhenitsyn, Bukovsky, and Galich, and who oversaw Sakharov’s exile?
This last question is in fact somewhat rhetorical: since Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov’s former subordinates have come to power, a memorial plaque to him on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square has been restored and new statues of him erected in Rybinsk and Petrozavodsk. In 2007, when Vladimir Bukovsky, proposed by the opposition as their candidate for the Russian presidency, flew back to Moscow after many years of absence, his route from Domodedovo airport into the city took him along Andropov Prospekt.
Street names are by no means a trivial issue. The preservation of the Soviet names is a symptom of a sickness in our society, a sign that we have been unable to rid ourselves of the totalitarian bug. Having accepted that the power of the CPSU was overthrown in August 1991 and that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation stated in its resolution №9-P of 30.11.1992 that the communist régime was a criminal one, we are too cowardly to continue the logic and condemn these crimes at the state level, forbid the use of totalitarian ideology and its symbols, and proceed with the lustration of former wrongdoers.
What happened back in 1991-1992 was an unfortunate gesture of generosity from the victors: “Let’s not rock the boat… We don’t want any witch-hunts…” Should we therefore be surprised today in the “witches” are back and have started their own “hunts”?
This was never better exemplified than in the Kremlin’s reaction to the European Parliament resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism, recognising the banal truths that the murders committed and the enslavement caused by the acts of aggression perpetrated by Fascism and Stalinism qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that […] the extreme forms of totalitarian rule practised by the Nazi, Fascist and Soviet Communist dictatorships were responsible for premeditated and massive crimes on a scale never before seen in history committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights. Over the last 10 years’ of Putin’s governance, one would have thought the Kremlin would no longer be able to come up with anything that might surprise us. Nonetheless, to hear a public defence of Stalinism by Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespeople and the RF Federal Assembly must have shaken even apologists for the régime. MoFA spokesman Andrei Nesterenko called the resolution “a distortion of history”. What part of the definition of Stalinism did Russia’s top bureaucrats consider a “distortion”? Breaches of “basic and inalienable rights” perhaps? Truth to tell, that puts matters somewhat too mildly when we are looking here at the massacre of millions. Or maybe our civil servants disliked the linking of the two totalitarian régimes, their placement on a par for cruelty, political organisation, and even style?
“… Never on our planet, never in its history has there been a régime more cruel, more bloody, and at the same time more cunning and twisted than the Bolshevik régime… Not in terms of numbers martyred, or in the length of its rule, or in the depths it plumbed, or in its total penetration of the fabric of life. There has been no régime like it on earth. Hitler’s was just a junior attempt compared to it…” That is not from the European Parliament. That’s Solzhenitsyn speaking in Gulag Archipelago, Vol.3, Part 5.
Returning old names and ridding the country of the traces of Soviet totalitarianism is not a political matter. It is something of import to society as a whole as we need to make it so that the names of the streets and town of Russia reflect the country’s history, not glorify its executioners and murderers.