Russia Revives the Namesake of 'Uncle Joe'

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Correction Appended

MOSCOW -- No, there are no plans to revive the gulag. But the city government of Volgograd voted unanimously on Thursday to officially restore its onetime Communist-era name, Stalingrad, for six days each year.

According to the measure, Volgograd will officially become the "hero-city Stalingrad" on Saturday, when the city celebrates the 70th anniversary of a landmark victory there over the Nazis in 1943 that turned the tide of World War II. It will do so again on five other days that commemorate the Soviet Union's victory in the war.

The decision comes amid a wave of state-sponsored patriotism and nostalgia for the Soviet Union in Russia -- and even for Stalin himself. While reviled in most of the rest of the world as a mass murderer, Stalin is still revered by many here for his role in winning World War II and propelling the Soviet Union to superpower status.

Sergei P. Zabednov, the Volgograd city lawmaker who drafted the measure, said that legislators were not trying to rehabilitate Stalin, but "return respect" to the millions of Soviet veterans who fought at Stalingrad and brought fame to the city under that name. "Now, Stalingrad has been preserved as the symbol of victory," he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Zabednov said the name would be used in official speeches and documents at Saturday's celebrations, and he also hoped that locals would create their "own initiatives." Weather forecasters will be allowed to call the city Stalingrad on the evening news and timetables at the city's train station could be altered to reflect the change, he said.

But some ideas for the celebrations have already evoked angry responses from Russian liberals. One of those -- several "Stalinmobiles," city buses painted with heroic portraits of the Soviet leader -- so infuriated Sergei Mitrokhin, the local leader of the liberal Yabloko party, that he promised to deface the buses with paint.

Polls have shown rising popularity for the former Soviet dictator, despite his responsibility for the deaths of tens of millions of his countrymen. Data from the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency, showed that in 2012 only 22 percent of Russians said Stalin played a "negative role" in the country's development, down from 60 percent in 1998.

Russia's Communist Party, which has called for Stalin to be fully rehabilitated, submitted a petition with 50,000 signatures calling on President Vladimir V. Putin to permanently rename the city Stalingrad on Wednesday.

Mr. Putin has not responded publicly, but veterans of World War II are expected to ask him in person to change the name when he attends the celebrations in Volgograd on Saturday.

Leonid N. Dobrokhotov, an adviser to the Communist leader Gennadi A. Zyuganov, accused Mr. Putin's supporters in the Volgograd city legislature of stoking nostalgia for the Stalinist era in a cynical attempt to build public support.

"Many of them just want to use the name of Stalin in order to cover up the total collapse of all their other initiatives," Mr. Dobrokhotov said.

Correction: February 1, 2013, Friday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article included a quote by Sergei P. Zabednov, the Volgograd city lawmaker who drafted the name-change measure, that implied erroneously that another Russian city, St. Petersburg, had been named after its founder, Peter the Great. That is not the case. It was named after St. Peter. (The error is a common one in Russia.)

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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