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 The instruction remained in force for no more than a few hours: after an urgent telephone call from on high, it was rescinded and the Moscow map reacquired a railway station named after a non-existent city, which itself was named after the pseudonym of the founder of one of the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.
Hmmm, Russians name streets after mass murderers because they are PROUD of the mass murderers.
I feel very sorry for the good Russians such as Mr Vladimir Kara-Murza.
Imagine how awful it must be to realise the majority of your fellow countrymen and women venerate Dezerzhinsky, Lenin, Stalin, Andropov et al.
Yes, indeed. And they make one-time (?) murderers such as Litvinenko’s killer Andrei Lugovoi members of parliament (go on, issue a libel writ and come to the UK and defend it in court!).
It won’t be long before we see an Andrei Chikatilo Street!.
Never mind the streets. I heard they keep Lenin’s mummified corpse on display. Is this true? If yes, it would me way more outrageous than having Lenin Street (do they have that too?)
Yes, on both counts.
Guess RV was being ironic.
Kadyrov Renames Grozny Street in Putin’s Honor
Publication: North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 9 Issue: 38
October 12, 2008 10:58 PM Age: 286 days
Category: North Caucasus Analysis
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov signed a decree on October 5 changing the name of Victory Avenue (Prospekt Pobeda) in the Chechen capital Grozny to V.V. Putin Avenue (Prospekt imeni V.V. Putina). Interfax quoted Grozny’s mayor, Muslim Khuchiev, as saying of the move: “In this way his [Putin’s] outstanding service in the fight against terrorism [and] the restoration of the Chechen Republic’s economy and the social sphere is commemorated.”
Newsru.com noted that October 5, the day the decree was signed, was also Kadyrov’s 32nd birthday, Grozny City Day and the start of festivities marking the 420th anniversary of the establishment of “good-neighborly” relations between Russia and Chechnya. Tens of thousands of inhabitants of Grozny and other parts of Chechnya gathered on the capital’s Akhmat Kadyrov Square, from which Putin Avenue runs, for the ceremony marking the renaming of the avenue. Kadyrov and Vladimir Ustinov, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, were among those who participated in the ceremony, during which several thousand students lined both sides of Putin Avenue.
“As a Chechen, as a Muslim, I state that I am ready, if necessary, to die for Vladimir Putin,” Kadyrov told the crowd. “Thanks to this person we have arrived at a time in which peace and tranquility reigns in Chechnya.” He added that “terrorists from 60 countries came to Chechnya not to make it a sovereign nation, but … to turn it into a springboard for bringing down Russia. They failed to do this thanks to the decisiveness and the will of Putin, thanks to the fact that he had trust in Akhmat Kadyrov, and Akhmat Kadyrov also had the trust of the Chechen people.”
Ustinov, for his part, gave high marks for the situation in Chechnya, which he described as “stable.”
Meanwhile, Kommersant reported on October 6 that the Kremlin viewed Kadyrov’s initiative to rename Victory Avenue after Vladimir Putin “reservedly.” According to the newspaper, Kremlin sources made it clear that while Putin cannot prevent a street being named after him, he does not welcome such a step. Moskovsky Komsomolets noted on October 6 that even back during the Soviet period it was forbidden to name streets after living figures and that most of Russia’s regions have passed laws on renaming streets that retain this prohibition. In addition, some regions have laws stating that streets can be renamed after people only ten years after they have died. Indeed, Moscow’s law was recently changed so that Big Communist Street could be renamed Solzhenitsyn Street.
“In general, of course, in Russia it is not acceptable to name any objects after incumbent politicians,” Newsru.com on October 6 quoted Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, as saying. “But such decisions are taken by the authorities of a region and are not subject to agreement from the center, so that this was only Ramzan Kadyrov’s decision. Vladimir Putin has expressed his opinion on this subject more than once. He would prefer it if there were not such initiatives. But he also cannot forbid them.”
Meanwhile, Aleksandr Belov, leader of the far-right Movement Against Illegal Immigration, called Kadyrov’s decision to rename a Grozny street after Vladimir Putin “inadequate” and a “mockery” not only of Putin, but of Russia’s head of state, President Dmitry Medvedev. “This renaming of a street has made Medvedev a laughingstock in the entire world,” Belov said. “Ramzan Kadyrov showed himself to be a real Chechen by naming Grozny’s central street after Putin. However the mentality of the East, unfortunately, remains in the Middle Ages, inasmuch as there always the desire there to bow down before the more powerful [and] show that they are loved and honored. But for some reason this idea smells of insincerity … It is clear that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] is a deserving person and did a lot for the Chechen people. So there is a reason to thank Putin, but this method of showing gratitude is outdated. Although maybe there, in Chechnya, such an initiative is seen as normal.”
However, Kavkazky Uzel quoted ordinary Chechens as saying they were shocked by the initiative. “I don’t understand: how can the avenue be named in the memory of this person?” the website quoted a 60-year-old resident of Chechnya, Salakh Saidulaev, as saying. “He, just like Boris Yeltsin, was and will forever remain in the memory of our people as the main culprit in the tragedy of Chechens at the end of the last and the start of this century. It was precisely Putin, first in his capacity as chairman of the government and then as president of Russia, who gave the orders to bomb and shell our cities and villages. The victims of the rocket fire on Grozny and on the refugee columns in October 1999 are on his conscience. He, as commander-in-chief, is responsible for everything that the Budanovs and Shamanovs and others did here. I consider this decision as a disgrace.”
Salikhat, a 48-year-old Grozny resident, told Kavkazky Uzel: “Ramzan once again has demonstrated what he thinks of the opinion of the people and the tragedy that Chechens have lived through for the past 15 years through the fault of the Kremlin. First he named a street in honor of the Pskov paratroopers, then he immortalized the name of General [Gennady] Troshev here and now he has decided to elevate Putin. Of course, Putin may be an idol and God to Ramzan Kadyrov and his family, since it is precisely thanks to him that they have become who they are today.” Salikhat said that she regards Putin as the culprit in the deaths of many peaceful inhabitants of Chechnya and added that she has become disillusioned with Kadyrov because of this decision.
Abu, a 20-year-old Grozny resident, told Kavkazky Uzel: “I cannot imagine, for example, the government in Kosovo naming a street in honor of the former president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic or, let’s say, an avenue in Tskhinvali being named after Mikheil Saakashvili. I pity Ramzan. He probably himself does not realize that he is undermining his authority and honor among the population with his ill-conceived actions.” Abu also said that Putin is responsible for the deaths of Chechen civilians.
Isa, a Grozny resident and student at a local college, said of Kadyrov’s decision: “In my view, it is ordinary toadying and yet another attempt to show loyalty to the Kremlin. On television all yesterday evening they showed a portrait of Putin with an inscription written below—‘national hero of the country’. What kind of post is that? Who gave it to Putin? Ramzan? Of course, to hear and see all of this is funny and bitter at the same time. What is all this leading to?”
An activist with a local human rights group told Kavkazky Uzel. “Tens and hundreds of thousands of people in Chechnya were killed, kidnapped, disappeared without a trace or crippled. Who is responsible for that? Of course, Yeltsin and Putin. The former has already, happily for him, died, but there is the chance—at least I very much hope so—that Putin will answer for these evil deeds. To name an avenue in his honor, in my view, means to approve and support the policy he followed of ‘pacification’ of Chechnya using rocket fire, aerial bombardment, artillery attacks and ‘large-scale’ and ‘targeted’ zachistki [security sweeps]. This means to forgive him for the blood of thousands and thousands of innocent women and children. Kadyrov has yet again showed, above all, his deep dependence on Putin … Personally, this aroused only contempt in me.”
Adam, a history teacher in a Grozny school, told Kavkazky Uzel: “How can you do such things without asking for the opinion of the people? I know that if the situation here were just a bit different, people would be demonstrating in the streets of Grozny, demanding that he reverse this decision. But everyone fully understands that they weren’t given the chance to express their opinion, because everything here is suppressed. Therefore everyone is silent. But that’s only for now. I don’t think that there will be a Putin Avenue, Troshev Street or Pskov Paratroopers Street in Grozny forever.” Adam added that he thought that in the near future these names would no longer be around.
Old Soviets are symbols of strength. It was a time when the people were afraid of the State. The state dominated the people. The people relied on the State for their livelihood. Now, today, there are those in power who want the same. They want to pretend that those that defeated the Nazis did it through strength. That perhaps it was not the sacrifice of 20 million russian soldiers. Rather it was through strong leadership that Russia made it through to become a Superpower. That once again Russia will be a Superpower. What ever that means. As long as Russia continues to think that way, it will never be a real threat. The country would be an economic Superpower if they used their natural resources to build a vibrant and free society. The Kremlin leaders are too paranoid to let the Russian people have liberty.