& Company


Second Installment:
Casualties of the Campaign

by Matthew-Daniel Stremba

A fellow Baltimorean wrote recently graciously reminding me
of street names back home that resonate with
America's revolutionary era.  Franklin, Paca, Lafayette.
Right.  Why, three whole city streets reflect the glory of
John Eager Howard, colonel of the Maryland militia, merchant,
landowner, governor, US senator.

One difference — need I say?
Accomplishing independence and naming our streets,
all of that pretty much moved in step with the city's growth.
Baltimore was a young thing baptizing streets aborning,
while Yekaterinburg by 1917 was a great-granny looking at
roadways named generations earlier.
Ours, a natural process pretty much starting from scratch;
old Yekat's, a jarring piece of business.

And it jars yet again.
Last month a Yekaterinburg radio station assembled a small panel
to discuss the campaign to remove old Bolsheviks from street-signs.
A babushka called in to register her protest.
"Whatever anyone may think," she said, "this is
profoundly our history.  Why should we give it up?"

Street-signs have been her Cliff Notes.  Wait!
Better yet, you could say Lenin (two blocks north of here),
Engels (visible from our window), and Marx (just south of us)
remain her monuments to more than just
dogma memorized chapter-and-verse.
Marx was the school board, Engels the principal,
and Lenin wielded the paddle of discipline.
Ah, sweet memories.
And the whole list of correct Bolshevik names for
Yekat's thousand-plus streets is a reverse Roll Call.

All the babushki are
Alumni of their Alma Sovietica Mater
and they walk their beats religiously counting heads,
taking attendance, calling off names of their old masters.
A litany. Kalinin! "Here!"  Kuybyshev! "Present."
Lunacharsky! "Here."  Ordzhonikidze! "Yes, of course."
Sverdlov!  "I am here!"
Klara Tsetkin, Weiner, Rosa Luxemburg!  "Here, here, here."
Karl Liebknecht! "Still here."


That's Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin still standing in Yekaterinburg's 1905 Square. Behind Lenin, those large letters announce a capitalist institution, Guta-Bank. The massive block of a building on your right — the western end of city hall.
Lenin in Yekaterinburg's 1905 Square, planted in front of the Guta-Bank

Do they have to worry about
those streets marking holidays Americans never heard of,
streets honoring groups like the Bakinsky Commissars,
the Pioneers (Soviet scouting organization),
the Komsomol (communist youth)?
Will name-changers assault the Street of the Electricians?
Street of the Metallurgists?
The Enthusiasts!  Who in the Soviet world were they?
What about Red Army Street?  Red Navy Street?
And streets named after Soviet generals:
Blucher, Frunze, Vatutin, Voroshilov, et ali?

Hiking through the city was a Soviet kid's tutorial;
gave a whole new meaning to "street smarts".
And it's unarguably a public nomenclature that continues to help
aging ex-Sovs keep their bearings in a changing world.
And aging myself, I know the need for familiar sign-posts.

Viktoria Suvorova pens a weekly essay in Saturday's
Vecherniy Ekaterinburg under the rubric,
Po-moemu or "The Way I See It". A recent column asked
"are we so ashamed of our past?"
She declares it "stupid to pretend
Lenin and Luxemburg played no role in our lives."

Yes, Ms Suvorova, after the name-changers get their way,
who'll remember Khokhrakov? This surname
appears on street-signs only in towns of the Urals
and Siberian region. In Moscow, Kyiv or Tashkent
surviving ex-Sovs do not easily recognize the name.
Khokhrakov's contribution to the revolution was, apparently,
as local as William Donald Schaefer's, or Frank Rizzo's, to America.
Today on Khokhrakov street you'll find one of
Yekaterinburg's two Irish pubs.

The southwest corner where Engels Street crosses Gogol Street. Farther down Gogol is a district police station, a Russian ATM ("Bankomat"), and a 24-hour gasoline station ("benzeen", the Russians say).
Now, this camera up front, what might it be looking for?
southwest corner of Engels & Gogol Streets

When, all those years back, the Bolsheviks began
this renaming business, there was of course
no opportunity for the babushki or opinionated columnists
to debate the merits. But the authorities then did display
a certain breadth of knowledge when they inserted two Americans
into the Russian cityscape.
Washington?  Thomas Paine?  Jack London?  Gemingvey?

Try Sacco and Vanzetti.  Remember them?
Yekaterinburg gave them just one street,
but in Tyumen, look, Sacco has his own street and Vanzetti his!
Once they go, the only American names remaining on the streets
will be fast-food franchises.

The radio panel asked the babushka
what street was she particularly anxious about.

"I live on Malyshev street," she replied,
"and I don't want to see Malyshev go away." She added:
"80 years already I've been in this world.
And my hope is my great grandchildren will know
the history of the times in which I lived."

Ivan Mikhailovich Malyshev, another regional celebrity.
Became chairman of the oblast communist party committee
before his twentieth birthday.  Seems he died young,
before the old lady was even born.

Galina Lobanova, director of the city history museum,
comforted our babushka suggesting Malyshev
wouldn't be changed for another 10-20 years.
(Small comfort, that.  Either she'll be dead or
there'll be another revolution.)

I too, believe it or not, have a soft spot for old ladies!
And I find her case making me reflective.
So, the reflection:
The Soviet world was certainly a given when our babushka
first saw the light of day, but in fact it is not 80 years
from that day that she has been on familiar terms
with the whole gang of reds.
This fact:
By the early 1920s only ten (10) Yekat streets
carried new names blessed by the Bolsheviks;
city hall didn't get around to resuming the task until 1937.
That means, our babushka was already about 15 years old,
when 110 more streets were renamed in accordance with
an official list of approved luminaries.

It would seem the old lady has no fond memories of those
earlier street names,
long gone now (but soon to be resurrected),
that guided her daily walk to primary school.

This street sign is fixed to the southern wall of Exaltation of the Cross church. It declares: This is no. 1 Exaltation of the Cross Street. In smaller print, enclosed in parentheses, it adds: This was formerly Karl Marx Street. In reality, as of 26 October 2003, snow in the air, it still remains Marx's street, regardless of the initiative of this parish. Elsewhere, other individuals, impatient for eliminating the Soviet past, have stenciled pre-revolutionary street names on walls and fences.
Sign declaring: no. 31 Exaltation of the Cross St. (Formerly Karl Marx St)

I marvel how it may be universal that we all need to be
of a certain age before we form such improbable yet fierce
attachments to something like — well, the names of streets.

Those Baltimoreans who cared nothing about losing
Friendship Airport must've been a mere 9 or a callow 12
when the name changers struck.
Mike Franch's e-mail also reminded me of another
renaming campaign: during WWI, Baltimore's German Street
getting turned into Redwood.  Which adults did that unsettle?

I can think of other switches back home,
unquestionably abominable: NAPPS replaced by NSA,
Kresge's to K-Mart, Reading Railroad vanishing into Conrail,
regular mail called "snail mail",
and — oy! — Liberty Fries.

"Get on with it!!!  Enough reflections!!!
What about Karl Liebknecht?
Why is he at the top of the list to be struck? Why not me?
I was the first deletion in Moscow in 1991 already.
In 1998 it was me Tashkent renounced when
they took away my subway stop!"

Gorky???  Is that you?

"Mr. Maxim Gorky to you.  Well?
What's so special about that non-entity Liebknecht?"

You sound bitter, sir.

Lenin Prospekt (in olden times "Main Street", but in Russian) intersects with Karl Liebknecht. Before Liebknecht — a communist "martyr" of Germany — this cross street was Voznesensky Prospekt. It continues northward to a hill also called Voznesensky (i.e. Ascension, a major Eastern Orthodox feast day), atop which sits Voznesensky church.
Lenin Prospekt, the old Main Street, intersects with Karl Liebknecht, earlier known as Ascension

Till the next installment,
Matthew-Daniel Stremba16 April 2003

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