As we approach December 9 Victory Day in Russia (which, alas, had to be postponed this year due to the Coronavirus quarantine), there are many stories in the Russian press relating to the war and the victory. Starting on May 2, I shall begin a new series, a review of a riveting true story about 2 escaped Soviet POW’s who found shelter in the most unlikely place imaginable. I think you will really enjoy it.
But meanwhile, there is an interesting phenomenon taking place in the Russian borderlands, namely a (temporary) return of the name “Stalin” to several cities. So, I have this piece, written jointly by Andrei Rezchikov and Mikhail Moshkin.
This trend started in the Donbass. Leonid Pasechnik, who heads the Luhansk Peoples Republic, signed an order whereby the capital city of Luhansk would revert to its Soviet name of Voroshilovgrad three times per year: on 22 June (the start of the Nazi invasion; 14 February (when Luhansk was liberated from Nazis); and 9 May (Soviet and Russian Victory Day).
Next, Denis Pushilin, who heads the Donetsk Peoples Republic signed a decree to return the name of Stalino to the capital city, again, just for the 3 days in the year, including 8 September, when Donetsk was liberated from the Nazis. The city bore the name of Stalino for many years: from 1929 to 1961.
The Ossetians Concur
The government of South Ossetia then followed the Donbass example, when its President Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree (yesterday) to symbolically rename the capital Tskhinval to Stalinir. This time just twice a year: on June 22 and May 9.
Tskhinval is actually the original, historical name of the city. According to wikipedia it derives from Old Gruzian “Krtskhinvali” which means “the land of hornbeams” (a certain type of birch tree). In 1934 the city was renamed to Staliniri (Gruzian form) or Stalinir (Ossetian form) [yalensis: what kind of colossal ego… oh, never mind…] and bore the name of Joseph Stalin up until 1961. At which time, in the heat of the de-Stalinization campaign and all the revelations about the “Cult of Personality”, the city was returned to its old name, but in the Gruzian manner of Tskhinvali. When South Ossetia broke away from Gruzia in 1991, Tskhinvali became Tskhinval [Oh, what a difference one vowel can make!]; yet both forms were still in common use. It was only after the August 2008 war, in which South Ossetia won definitive independence from Gruzia, that the final, hated, vowel was banished forever.
Gruzia, as expected, reacted negatively to the recent news. They didn’t much like Tskhinval, but Stalinir is even worse, in their minds. Both nations actually have solid claims to the Great Leader: Stalin’s dad was an Ossetian, and his mom was a Gruzian. But the contemporary Gruzian government is officially anti-Communist to the core, so they don’t like anything to do with Soviet times, be in Lenin or even homeboy Stalin. Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, who enjoys the cushy job of curating the “occupied territories” [which essentially gives her a fat paycheck for doing nothing] mocked the South Ossetians in this regard, saying how they “force children to sing songs of praise to the USSR in front of portraits of Lenin and Stalin, while wearing pioneer ties.” Which maybe isn’t that much of an exagerration, but probably applies more to the people of Donbass than to the Ossetians.
Meanwhile, the Ossetians themselves reacted quite calmly to the Stalinir announcement. Petr Gassiev, who is Deputy Speaker of the South Ossetian Parliament, explained to the VZGLIAD reporters how Stalin is connected to Ossetia: The family name of Dzhugashvili is actually the Gruzianized form of the Ossetian name Dzhugaev. “You shouldn’t consider this to be a malady of small nations,” Gassiev emphasizes. “To find great antecedents for themselves. It’s nothing like that. We have a sufficient number of [national heroes]. But Stalin has a particular relationship to this republic. Back in the day the Gruzian Central Committee requested that the city of Gori be renamed to Stalingori. But Stalin refused, saying: In honor of my father, of my ancestors who were Ossetians, please rename the city of Tskhinval to Stalinir. And thus it came to pass.”
[yalensis: He couldn’t have said: “Oh no, no, leave it as Tskhinval. I am much too modest to…” oh, never mind!]
Gassiev added that the older generation still refers to Tskhinval as Stalinir; and that the younger generation also supports the symbolic renaming. Nobody has expressed any opposition to it. “Before undertaking this, the government took some opinion polls, and only then did they go ahead with it. One of the central streets of the city is named after Stalin. The majority of Ossetians understand that Stalin was a genius. That fact cannot even be disputed. In general people have a warm attitude towards his memory. And the temporary renaming, for the sake of the holiday, was greeted with good will.”
Daniil Bezsonov, who heads the Ministry of Information for the Donetsk Peoples Republic, explains his positive attitude to the temporary renaming: “Stalin was a complex figure, to be sure, but the fact that Donetsk was called Stalino during the Great Patriotic War — that is a part of our history, the memory of our forefathers. Secondly, Donetsk was at the heart of manufacturing and industry of the Soviet Union, in large part thanks to the industrialization campaign led by Stalin. This history might please some and displease others, but it is what it is. I personally welcome this moment positively, and I believe that it was the correct decision.”
Amen to that. But what about Leningrad?