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Russia: 'Names That Should Have No Place On The Map Of Russia'

  • Paul Goble

http://gdb.rferl.org/01DCF47C-C310-4E3D-876E-ECDFC00FB799_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/01DCF47C-C310-4E3D-876E-ECDFC00FB799_mw800_mh600.jpg What's in a name? A new "Black Book" has just been released in Moscow identifying 122 communists, members of the secret police, and others whom the Soviets gave a kind of immortality to by putting their names on a variety of places and institutions in the Russian Federation.

Many names, like Stalin, had already been struck from the map -- some by Soviet officials, others by Russians following the breakup of the Soviet Union. But since then, the authors of the new book say, Russian officials have done little or nothing to remove the names of people and events that should "have no place on the map of Russia."

The book, which bears the title "The Black Book of Names That Should Have No Place on the Map of Russia," was compiled by 17 different authors. It was published by Posev and released earlier this month. (The full text of the book is available for downloading here.)

Chilling Reading

The introduction to the volume argues that just as "the quality of our environment is important for our physical health...no less important is the symbolic milieu around us for our mental well-being." And it calls for identifying and eliminating many Soviet-imposed place names.

The book consists of 122 articles divided into seven chapters. Each article provides a detailed biography of the official or history of the event involved and a partial listing of the various places in the Russian Federation that still bear these names.

The seven chapters include one featuring leaders of the October 1917 Bolshevik coup. Other chapters focus on those who contributed to the rise of Soviet totalitarianism, those involved with revolutionary terrorism, and those foreign revolutionary "heroes" that the Soviet government sought to memorialize.

The articles make chilling reading. Among the most notorious people in the volume is Georgii Atarbekov, a secret policeman who oversaw and personally participated in the killings of thousands of priests, peasants, and others whom the Soviet government labeled as "enemies of the people."

According to the "Black Book," Atarbekov's name "adorns" various towns in the southern part of the country, and it is also the name of a street in Moscow's Preobrazhenskii district. Many people encountering that street probably do not know the history of the man it was named after. But the continuing presence of his name, the "Black Book" argues, nonetheless has an impact by keeping that past alive and honored.
Many Soviet-imposed toponyms remaining on the map of Russia have less to do with Russian history than some might think. After all, this volume implicitly asks, just how central to Russian history is someone like Salvador Allende?


The book also describes the continuing presence of the names of Feliks Dzerzhinskii, the notorious founder of the Cheka, predecessor to the KGB and today's Federal Security Service, and of Pavlik Morozov, a Soviet-era hero who was killed for turning in his parents.

The book details the many foreign communist leaders and other leftists who remain memorialized in Russia. Bulgaria's Georgiy Dmitrov, for example, who has been removed from the mausoleum in Sofia by that country's postcommunist regime, remains on the map of Russia. Chilean leader Salvador Allende still has a Moscow street named after him. And Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh also has a square in the Russian capital bearing his name. Indeed, that square is located at the intersection of the Avenue Named for the 60th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and Dmitrii Ulyanov Street, memorializing Lenin's elder brother.

Signs Of The Times

The volume notes that many Russian officials as well as many ordinary Russians raise two basic objections to renaming places even in order to overcome the Soviet past. On the one hand, they say, "we have become accustomed to these names." But as the authors show, after many names were changed at the start of the 1990s, Russians quickly became accustomed to the new ones.

And, on the other, those opposed to changing these names, argue that "this is part of our history and we cannot wipe it out." But as the authors point out, slavery is part of the history of the United States and Hitler is part of the history of Germany, but no one thinks of naming streets or cities in their honor.

And many Soviet-imposed toponyms remaining on the map of Russia have less to do with Russian history than some might think. After all, this volume implicitly asks, just how central to Russian history is someone like Salvador Allende?

Invoking Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's dictum that people must "live not by lies," the authors of these remarkable and disturbing portraits conclude that removing these names from the map will help Russians recover.

The authors suggest that failing to remove them -- or worse, restoring some of these Soviet-era names as some Russian officials and nationalists now want to do -- would only make the time Russians will need to recover from that past longer and more difficult.
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