Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Stalingrad veterans want the name of their city back.
On Sunday, the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory at Stalingrad, Russia honoured the veterans of one of the grisliest and most pivotal battles of World War II with wreathes, speeches, a military parade and a special payment of 1500 rubles, about $A80, to each veteran.
But what many veterans said they really wanted was not the honours or the rubles - they wanted the old name back. "We fought for Stalingrad, not Volgograd," said Mr Bramnik, a commissar for a sapper unit during the war. He travelled from Novorossisk, on the Black Sea, for the anniversary.
Nostalgic for a glorious past, inspired by the dwindling ranks of veterans and motivated, some say, by politics, a determined group of lawmakers has started a campaign to restore the name that came to symbolise the Soviet Union's stunning reversal of fortune in what is known here as the Great Patriotic War.
The campaign, which may soon head to the Russian federal legislature, is the latest manifestation of an awkward, emotionally charged debate about which parts of the Soviet Union's history are safe to celebrate as Russia's. [...]
It was that legacy, along with the terrors of Stalin's rule, that prompted Nikita Khrushchev, himself a veteran of the battle, to have the city's name changed in 1961 to one that means simply "city on the Volga".
Among the ageing veterans gathered here on Sunday support for the idea of restoring the name was all but unanimous.
President Vladimir Putin, a cautious, sometimes coy politician, appeared to dash their hopes saying that a change now "would generate some sort of suspicions that we are returning to the times of Stalinism".
You mean you aren't?