Russia: Soviet Legacy and Street Names

Global Voices Online
Friday, October 23, 2009

It is, of course, an exaggeration, but back in September and early October, it seemed as if every single Russian blogger took the time to write something about the re-naming of Anti-Soviet Shish Kebab Restaurant in Moscow, dissident journalist Aleksandr Podrabinek's protest article (RUS, Kerkko Paananen's English translation is posted at A Step At A Time) and Nashi youth movement's counter-protest activities.

In the English-language blogosphere, Sean Guillory of Sean's Russia Blog took the time to summarize the ordeal:

[...] Long story short: After a summer of renovations, the owner of kebab restaurant on Leningradskii prospekt decided to call his place “Anti-Soviet” to poke fun at the Soviet Hotel across the street. The name went well the the restaurant’s dissident theme of photos of “anti-Soviet” figures of the past. [...] Vets, however, didn’t see the humor and complained to the local district administration, demanding the restaurant be renamed. The “anti-” in Anti-Soviet Kebab House, they said, hurt their feelings and denigrated their sacrifice in saving Russia from Nazism. Within days, the district’s “crusading environmental inspector,” Oleg Mitvol, paid the Anti-Soviet Kebab House a visit ordering the “anti-” be removed. The owners begrudgingly complied. [...]


Enter Alexander Podrabinek, the famous Soviet dissident and now Putin foe. Having had enough of the “restoration of the Soviet past,” Podrabinek pounded out a diatribe “Letter to Soviet Veterans,” where he called the name change as “great pity” and lambasted the complaining veterans as “idiotic, base, and stupid.” He then went on to charge the vets as “the ones who served as whipmasters in labour camps and prisons, political commissars of anti-retreat units, and executioners at firing grounds.” According to Podrabinek, he and others who defied the Soviet regime are the country’s real heroes. The letter was published on Podrabinek’s blog and on the website of the liberal rag Ezhednevnyi zhurnal.


Enter Nashi. Nashi has been aimless since the election of Dmitry Medvedev. With “colored revolution” vanquished, a number of its chapters liquidated, and little need for mass street protests, the kids in Nashi don’t know what to do with themselves. [...]

[...] Soon after Podrabinek’s diatribe hit runet, Nashi began mobilizing its apparatus of outrage. Members began pickets outside of Podrabinek’s apartment, released his phone number and address on the internet, and vowed to run him out of the country. According to Nashi’s GenSek, Nikita Borovikov, all these actions are “of the most democratic in nature.”

Fearing for his life, Podrabinek went into hiding. Not because of Nashi, whose actions he considers a “propaganda stunt” and an “imitation of public outrage” (which it is), but because of “information from reliable sources” that “serious people” want him taken care of. That is “taking care of” in the bullet-in-head sense of the phrase.

More outrage ensued. Ezhednevnyi zhurnal began an online petition in support of Podrabinek, which now sports over 3000 signatures, a virtual who’s who of the Russian liberal intelligentsia. Not to be outdone, Nashi claims to have over 5000 signatures against Podrabinek. [...]

On Oct. 8, LJ user mrfilin wrote a post (RUS) on how the questionable Soviet legacy kept on surviving in street names in his native city of Tula, alluding to the shish kebab restaurant scandal that has caused such an avalanche of online and offline response:

Why isn't there a central street named after Adolf Hitler in Berlin, or a square named after [SS], an avenue named after [Paulus], or, at least, a dead-end street named after [Goebbels]? Perhaps, because it's not appropriate for a bürger to walk down a street named after murderers of the people, ruthless bandits, who only valued power and whose favorite pastime was bloodthirsty fighting for it. An anti-fascist shish kebab restaurant wouldn't be subjected to persecutions by municipal authorities.

In Russia, on the other hand, since ancient times, people have had tender feelings towards tyrants and sadists. An individual sense of identity of a poor wife tortured by her despotic drunkard of a husband has transformed into a mass consciousness: if he beats me, it means he loves me. And when this alcoholic chokes on his own filth and dies, his widow will carefully preserve all kinds of memory of him, posting his photographs all over the apartment. The ones on which he is portrayed wearing his only suit and being his normal self for once.

In the same manner, in every remote place there'll always be a Lenin street, a Red Army avenue or a [Dzerzhinsky] street. And in bigger towns, there'd be a couple of these. But if in Moscow you may get lucky and settle on a street named after a decent person, in the provinces street names carry nothing but the communist heritage. Here, for example, are streets I'm familiar with in Tula:

1. [...] My grandmother lives on a street named after the unknown to me Zhabrov Brothers. I've failed in my attempt to find out who they were, but the street perpendicular to theirs is named after an unprincipled loser-terrorist [Khalturin], who [caused deaths] of 11 heroes of the Russo-Turkish campaign.

2. Grandmother #2, together with grandfather, live on an avenue named after the army that has killed more decent Russian people than any other army in the world, except for the [Nazi German army].

3. Not far from here is a hospital named after informer [Semashko] and General [Frunze], who caused deaths of tens of thousands Red Army soldiers during the fight against the remains of the [White Army]. Frunze used his people as cannon fodder, and was ruthless towards the Whites, too, of course. The general's army liked to rape Russian women, while the general himself preferred to attend theater premieres in Moscow. Only, for some reason, not the pro-Soviet nonsense, but the half-legal [Meyerhold].

4. My parents are somewhat luckier - they live on [Perekop] street - [Crimea]'s edge where the same Frunze and [Denikin] fought one another.

5. Et cetera.

And who is the street you live on named after?

Below are some of the comments to this post:


My street is named after painter [Vasnetsov].


lucky you



[Gorky] street probably exists in every city except for the Default City [Moscow]. And the name of our city - '[Kaliningrad]' - is a bit too much [named after Mikhail Kalinin]. Though the German '[Königsberg]' isn't nice, either.



Syromolotov street - named after a local Bolshevik :(( [in Yekaterinburg]



I've been lucky in this sense - I've nothing against Turgenev, after whom my street is named :)

But there's a neighborhood in our city [Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine] where the following streets cross with one another: Communist, Bolshevik, Proletarian, Lenin, [Sovnarkom] lane, [Rosa Luxemburg], Karl Marx, [Kirov] and [Karl Liebknecht]. All this within one square kilometer (



I've been sort of lucky. In [Krasnoyarsk], it was [Tchaikovsky] street, here [in Moscow] (temporarily) - [Lomonosov] avenue.

Of the relatives who live on streets named after Soviet activists, I only recall grandmother and grandfather - Vodopyanov street in Krasnoyarsk. But I don't think I have anything bad to say about him.

In general, my native city has somehow been lucky with this - the whole sovok is limited to the standard package of "Lenin-Peace-Marx" (three main streets in the center). Bad toponyms don't stick here, and that's it.



Coppistrasse. Hans and Hilde Coppi were some fighters against the Nazi anti-Soviet propaganda, who were murdered by the fascists. A friend lives on Karl-Marx-Allee )))







I live on Lake street, in Ochakov. This used to be the village of Ochakov in Moscow region, with many lakes and swamps, on which they were building houses for those exiled from Moscow after serving sentences for murder and rape. Now this is a residential district of the capital with some really tough - iron - gene pool =)

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