De-Russianizing street names stirs historical discussion

Take note – story published 1 year ago

Because of the war in Ukraine, Latvia has taken to remove Soviet-glorifying symbols from the public environment, including changing street names, also some that are simply linked to Russia in some way. Residents of Staraja Rusas Street in Rīga are dissatisfied with the new name and encourage studying history, Latvian Television's 4. studija reported on February 22.

"We are among the early birds who fell under an excellent political decision – to change street names. We are not against it. We recommend that the decision-makers do their homework, look at historical data, historical names, and don't do what they shouldn't do," said Ebe, a resident of Staraja Rusas Street.

Staraja Rusa (Staraya Russa) is a town in Novgorod Oblast, Russia, and it is likely that the street name was given in honor of the Red Army's 201th Latvian riflemen division battles near the town during WWII.

The residents have sent a letter to the Rīga City Council but don't think they've been heard.

"We received a response that four deputies have made the decision and that they don't think it necessary to review our recommendation," said Ebe.

"We found out we will have the honor of carrying the name of Hugo Celmiņš. We wrote a letter to review the historical names here since the 13th century."

Staraja Rusas Street does have some history with names. Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation historian Zita Pētersone said that "the first known name of Staraja Rusas Street is Spīķeru [archaic for warehouse] Street, it is the 1860s, because there was some type of warehousing on this island, as it is known that traders from Russia and Belarus came here."

 In 1867 the street was renamed Trinitātes or Trīsvienības (Trinity) Street due to a church which no longer exists. Later, in 1923, the name was Latvianized keeping the meaning, becoming Trijādības Street.

"Of course, Soviet times came, many streets were renamed, including this, which became Staraja Rusas Street. It is related to giving street names in relation to the World War II as a main event in Russian history," said Pētersone.

"What, for us, for our country, are Latvian red riflemen? Are they enemies of the nation? Enemies of the country? Staraja Rusas Street does not honor Staraja Rusa, it honors Latvian riflemen! [..] So we have good Latvian fighters and bad, maybe that should be discussed by historians?" said resident Astrīda.

Historian Zita Pētersone said: "It is still related to the Soviet occupation and somehow this street wasn't paid much attention, but now, in context of Ukraine, these names given during the Russian Empire and the Russian occupation, are brought up and reevaluated."

The residents would like to name it Klīversalas Street, after the peninsula on which it is located. But there is already Klīveru Street nearby which might cause confusion. Plus, the street has already been given the name of Hugo Celmiņš, a politician, twice the Prime Minister of the newly founded Latvian State (1924-1925, 1928-1931).

Residents are not satisfied with this and have turned to court because they want one of the historical names back. 

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