Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died last August, was one of Russia’s greatest 20th century writers and a powerful voice of political dissent who inspired fear and respect in several generations of Kremlin leaders.
But attempts to get a single Moscow street named after the late Nobel Prize-winning author have created a firestorm of protest that has stunned local authorities and embarrassed Solzhenitsyn’s supporters.
The trouble started when Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov issued an order to rename a downtown Moscow street, Bolshaya Kommunistichiskaya Ulitsa (Big Communist Street), after Solzhenitsyn by December 11, which would have been the writer’s 90th Birthday.
It seemed like a good idea, even a touch of poetic justice, to see Solzhenitsyn replacing Communism on a street sign. But local people erupted in fury.
“This district is not connected with Solzhenitsyn in any way, and he is not someone familiar to us,” local resident Valentina Kitayeva told journalists. “Let us keep the old name.”
It turns out that the forced change of address will require thousands of people living on the new Solzhenitsyn Street to replace all their documents, including passports, drivers licenses and housing papers. In ultra-bureaucratic Russia, that’s an arduous and time-consuming process.
People complain the authorities gave no thought to their problems when they announced their grand gesture in honour of Solzhenitsyn.
“Why not find some new street, that doesn’t have a name yet, and give that to Solzhenitsyn?,” said Vladimir Moskalyuk, another angry local. “I don’t have anything against Solzhenitsyn, but who decided that his memory should be planted here, on our peaceful street?”
Most of the street’s residents appear to be up in arms over practical concerns, but Russia’s still-powerful Communist Party has launched itself into the fray for more familiar ideological reasons.
“The name change is a challenge to all people with communist views, because Solzhenitsyn always fought with the Communists,” says Sergei Udaltsev, a leading Communist organizer.
He said the party is helping local people organise a petition, which already has over 1,000 residents’ signatures, demanding Moscow authorities change the street’s name back.
So, as Communists and their supporters prepare for a wave of nationwide protest rallies, slated for this Sunday, the already long list of anti-Capitalist grievances to be highlighted by the demonstrators is set to be increased by one: Give Us Back Big Communist Street!