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Russian Officials Seek To Erase Opposition Party's Name From St. Petersburg's Map

St. Petersburg officials want to change the name of the city's Parnas district, partly because it shares its name with a political party founded by avowed Putin critics, including the assassinated opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (pictured).

Liberal parties have been repeatedly written off the Russian political map during President Vladimir Putin's 15 years in power. Now his allies are trying to wipe the name of a prominent anti-Kremlin party from St. Petersburg's actual map.

Officials with the ruling United Russia party have asked the St. Petersburg legislature to rename the northern district of Parnas, in part because it shares its name with a party founded by avowed Putin critics, including the assassinated opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

District head Aleksei Cherezov told the Rosbalt website that local residents had complained that they did not know if the name "was linked to the political party Parnas."

City legislator Yevgeny Marchenko, meanwhile, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the name is "unpleasing to the ear" and that "a lot of Parnases have appeared," including "some party that doesn't win elections."

Both officials noted that the move is not tied exclusively to the opposition party, whose full name is RPR-Parnas. Cherezov and Marchenko said a sausage factory of the same name had also baffled residents of the district, which was originally named after a manmade hill in the center of a park.

The Parnas party's name is an abbreviation for its longer Russian name, The People's Freedom Party. Andrei Pivovarov, head of the party's St. Petersburg branch, said he believed the move was linked to local elections next year.

Marchenko, who represents an area within the Parnas district, "is trying to show his loyalty and relevance," Pivovarov told Rosbalt.

Earlier this year, the party agreed to join forces with opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny's Party of Progress ahead of national parliamentary elections in 2016.

The coalition tried to get on the ballot for regional elections held nationwide last month but was only allowed to run in the impoverished Kostroma region, northeast of Moscow, where it failed to win any seats.

Like other opposition parties and movements during Putin's reign, the Parnas-Party of Progress coalition accused authorities of bureaucratic shenanigans, smear campaigns, and vote rigging to ensure it would be trounced at the polls.

Following news of the push to rename the Parnas district, social media users proposed a range of new names for opposition political parties.

The St. Petersburg-based photographer Yevgeny Feldman suggested naming Russia's next opposition party "Lenin Street," since nearly every town, city, and village across the country has a street named after the founder of the Soviet Union.

Dmitry Ratnikov, a St. Petersburg-based journalist, suggested outwitting the officials, who have proposed renaming the Parnas district Sergiyevskoye in honor of a Russian Orthodox saint.

"I propose renaming the party from Parnas to Sergiyevskoye in 2016,"

Another Twitter user suggested the party go all in:

"The next opposition party has to be named Moscow," he said.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

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