Paris has Charles de Gaulle. Rome has Leonardo Da Vinci. New York has John F. Kennedy. And soon, depending on how the online voting goes, Russia's Yekaterinburg could have the Pavel Bazhov International Airport.
Yekaterinburg is one of 47 cities participating in a national online-voting project to attach the names of prominent Russians to their local airports. Bazhov was a Russian and Soviet writer of fairy tales who studied in Yekaterinburg in the 1890s and who was also the grandfather of the father of Russian shock therapy of the 1990s, Yegor Gaidar.
The Great Names of Russia project, which will produce its final tallies on December 5, is a joint effort by a consortium of state-connected organizations, including the Public Chamber, the Russian Geographical Society, and the Russian Military-Historical Society. It has enjoyed wall-to-wall coverage by state-friendly media at the national and local levels.
More than 200,000 people cast ballots on the first day of the final round of voting on November 13.
The goal of Great Names of Russia is to promote national unity and patriotism, organizers say.
"The initiative has enlivened and stimulated public interest in its own history," St. Petersburg Public Chamber member Vladimir Gronsky told the TASS news agency. "It is healthy for society."
St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport -- which stands to be renamed in honor of medieval prince Aleksandr Nevsky, Peter the Great, or 19th-century poet Aleksandr Pushkin -- is one of the largest airports participating in the project.
Moscow's Domodedovo Airport is also in the market for a new moniker to replace its distinctly unflashy appellation after a local district. Instead of three finalists, it was one of the few that merited four and should soon be named after World War II Marshal Georgy Zhukov, Napoleanic-era commander Mikhail Kutuzov, 18th-century scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, or former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.
Organizers apparently took pains to avoid embarrassments that have plagued similar online-democracy initiatives, such as when citizens of the United Kingdom voted to name a ship Boaty McBoatface or when residents of Slovakia voted to name a pedestrian bridge near Bratislava after U.S. television personality Chuck Norris.
In Russia, few controversial figures made the final short lists, which were compiled through an opaque process in an earlier round. No cities have the option of naming their airport after Tsar Ivan the Terrible, Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, secret police founder Feliks Dzerzhinsky, or dictator Josef Stalin. On the contrary, the airport in Mineralnye Vody could be named after anti-Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and the one in Magadan could bear the name of antiestablishment Soviet bard Vladimir Vysotsky.
Several figures have made the initial cut in multiple cities, although the contest rules stipulate just one airport per person. The city giving the most votes as a percentage of its population will win the honor.
Nonetheless, the competition has provoked some controversy. In Omsk, some locals were upset that rock musician Yegor Letov did not make the short list and have launched a petition to have him added.
"We believe the organizing committee made a major mistake by excluding Letov," the petition reads. "In doing so, the organizers of the competition have undermined faith in the quality of the voting, even for residents of the other 40-odd cities participating."
In Murmansk, some locals have expressed discontent on social media that their airport might be renamed at all. Currently, the airport bears a sign reading "Murmansk -- hero city" that honors the city's sacrifices and contributions during World War II, and they feel that is more distinguished than naming the airport after Emperor Nicholas II, Soviet pilot Boris Safonov, or Arctic explorer Ivan Papanin.
In Khabarovsk, eyebrows have been raised by the possibility that the airport could be named after Count Nikolai Muravyov-Amursky or Admiral Gennady Nebelsky. The two men are reviled in Russian nationalist circles for advocating the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867.