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On anniversary of Battle of Stalingrad Russians argue whether heroic city should be renamed after bloody tyrant

February 01, 2013, 17:04 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Volgograd, which is a Russian city situated on the Volga River and which was named Stalingrad in honour of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin from 1925 to 1961 and previously had been named Tsaritsyn from 1589 until 1925, turned out to be in the focus of attention in the last few days. It happened so that, on the one hand, this city name is linked with the worst events in the Soviet history associated with the name of the Soviet tyrant, and, on the other hand, this is one of the most joyful pages in the Soviet history that is the victory over the Hitler troops in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943.

The attempts of those people, who would like to bring back the name Stalingrad to the city, triumphed partially. On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Troops in the Battle of Stalingrad that is celebrated on February 2 and that became a crucial turning point in the Second World War, the Volgograd city legislature approved the decision to introduce the name “Hero City of Stalingrad”, which will be given to this city on memorial dates.

From now on, this name of the city will be used in official documents and addresses, as well as official speeches and congratulations on February 2, which is the date of routing the fascist troops in the Battle of Stalingrad. This name of the city will be also used on May 9, which is Victory Day, June 22 that is Day of Memory and Sorrow over the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, September 2 that is the day of the end of the Second World War. This name will also become an official name of the city on August 23 on the day of remembrance of the victims of the bombing of Stalingrad by the Nazi aviation and on November 19 that is the day of the beginning of the defeat of the fascist troops outside Stalingrad.

The Battle of Stalingrad lasted 200 days from July 17, 1942 to February 2, 1943. The defence of Stalingrad was the largest ground battle of the Great Patriotic War and became a landmark turning point in the war and made the counteroffensive operation of the Soviet Troops possible. Approximate losses from both sides reached about two million people.

“We have approved the document on the basis of numerous addresses from living war veterans of the Great Patriotic War,” deputy of the Volgograd legislature Sergei Zabednov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. “The deputies decided to introduce the name ‘the Hero City of Stalingrad’ as a symbol of Volgograd. We will be able to use this name officially in our speeches, reports and at massive events,” he said.

The permanent renaming of the city is not in question, though just shortly before the festivities on January 29, the Russian presidential administration received 50,000 signatures, which were gathered by “the Trade Union of Russian Citizens” involving the regional offices of the Communist Party of Russia in support of bringing the historical name back to the city.

The signup campaign in protection of the renaming of Volgograd in Stalingrad was launched last October, press secretary of “the Trade Union of Russian Citizens” Darya Dedova said. “The Kremlin will take a final decision in any case. If people want it, a response can be received even tomorrow,” she added.

The politicians have different positions over a possible decision on the issue.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who headed the nationalistic party Rodina in the past, has supported this idea. “I have never concealed my unambiguously positive attitude to this idea, particularly from the economic and investment point of view,” Rogozin said in his Twitter microblog.

Chairman of the A Just Russia Party and State Duma Vice-Speaker Nikolai Levichev called the renaming of Volgograd on several occasions as “the Stockholm syndrome” at the state level.

“The attitude to Stalin was expressed back in 1961, when Stalingrad was renamed in Volgograd. To rename a beautiful Russian city back in Stalingrad, even for some occasions, in honour of a bloody tyrant, who destroyed the millions of Soviet citizens, is a blasphemous act,” he noted.

“This is an old, heavy and deeply rooted problem. The de-Stalinisation of the country is a quite difficult and long process. Only the proper education of people and the launching of unbiased historical television programs and other measures can promote this process, but in no way a strange game with the renaming in favour of someone’s time-serving political interests,” Levichev pointed out.

“We are against! Volgograd is Volgograd,” State Duma Vice-Speaker from the LDPR party Igor Lebedev told Itar-Tass. In his view, geographical sites cannot be named in honour of “modern day heroes”. “There are no heroes, whom everybody likes. Stalin is a very disputable historical personality, someone takes him as a winner in the Great Patriotic War, some others as a tyrant. You cannot please everybody, and therefore nothing can be changed in this issue,” Lebedev explained.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of Russia believes that the symbolic renaming of Volgograd on the memorable dates is just a partial step. “The decision is good, but why only for some time? Why not to bring back this name to the city forever?” deputy head of the Communist faction in the State Duma Anatoly Lokot stated. In his view, despite different views on different times in the history, “the name, with which the Great Victory was won, should be brought back to the city.”

Meanwhile, the United Russia Party noted that the renaming of the city is not in question. “This is the use of the historical name Stalingrad, with which this heroic city is well-known in all historical materials, and an attempt to hush up this fact would be distortion of the truth and disrespect to those Soviet soldiers, who perished in the Battle of Stalingrad,” State Duma Vice-Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak told Itar-Tass.

“In my view, an exact, clear-cut official state assessment of Joseph Stalin as a criminal and executioner should become a rule,” anchorman of the Ekho Moskvy radio station Anton Orekh said, expressing the opinion of liberally-minded Russians. “The assessment of his activities as the crimes against humanity, the extermination of the peoples in the Soviet Union, as a war fault, which resulted in the fact that our country won the war against the fascism at a horrible cost, when all our losses cannot be estimated even with the accuracy of up to one million people yet. This is not Stalin, but the Soviet nation that won this war. This victory was won not thanks to Stalin, but despite his insanity,” he underlined.

MOSCOW, February 1