On the 6th of December 1878 (old date count) (1) the future synonym of terror was born: Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Born as Iosif, later Koba (2), before taking the name as most people know him today: Stalin. Stalin was not the only one taking on different names, so did many cities in the former Soviet Union. In fact, many cities were renamed after Stalin. Of course Stalin was not the only one who started this fad started, Lenin did. There is one noticeable difference between the two: most of cities named after Stalin changed their name back soon after his death, in contrast to Lenin. We will have a closer look and see what the influence was on people and Stalin’s image as a consequence of these name changes.
Besides the many statues of Stalin, many things have been named after him: cities, prizes, mountains, rivers, parks, buildings, factories, streets, squares, movies, plays, etc. One could fill an entire book with these, so that is why we will only focus on the cities in the former Soviet Union and its former satelite states in eastern Europe. A list as follows (3) (with layout of Stalin-like city name, current city name, time the was known under the Stalin-name):
Stalingrad – Volgograd, Russia – 1925–1961
Stalinogorsk – Novomoskovsk, Russia – 1934–1961
Stalinsk – Novokuznetsk, Russia – 1932–1961
Imeni Stalina – Sovkhoz Nomer Shest, Armenia
Stalino – Çaylı, Tartar, Azerbaijan
Stalino – Stalino, Azerbaijan
Staliniri – Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia – 1934–1961
Stalinisi – Khashuri,Shida Kartli, Georgia – 1931–1934
Stalino – Donetsk, Ukraine – 1924–1961
Stalinabad – Dushanbe, Tajikistan – 1929–1961
Qyteti Stalin – Kuçovë, Albania – 1950–1990
Stalin – Varna, Bulgaria – 1949–1956
Stalinstadt – Eisenhüttenstadt,East Germany – 1953–1961
Sztálinváros – – Dunaújváros, Hungary – 1951–1961
Stalinogród – –Katowice, Poland – 1953–1956
Oraşul Stalin – Braşov, Romania – 1950–1960
Besides the creativity, one can notice a more interesting fact appear: the year of termination. Most of the cities (as far known) changed the name of their city in 1961 (or fewer in 1960). This can of course be directly correlated to the destalinization initiated by Khrushchev starting in 1956. Destalinization reached a high (4) in 1961 after Stalin was reburied and Stalingrad (one of Russia`s most famous cities) was renamed Volgograd.
During the reign of Stalin there were many things named after him (like mentioned before) and a cult of his image was formed. Only the sheer majority of this can be discussed in a post-era. So to define how it influenced daily life and/or added to the cult of Stalin at the time is very hard to determine. However one can take a case study and project it on a similar happening. For this I will take two of my own experiences.
In the end of 2009 I travelled across Turkmenistan. Saparmurat Niyazov was the president of Turkmenistan from 1990 until 2006. He ruled the country with a firm grip and his image was generously forced upon the nation. Turkmenistan has been dubbed as a second North Korea. The great leader that renamed himself Turkmenbashi, father of all Turkmen, also named a few things after himself, including a city: Turmenbashi.
This city was a destination of mine, whilst visiting the country. As I only knew the new name, asking around in broken Russian, not a sole could help me. Only when I mentioned a city on the Caspian Sea did the name “Krasnovodsk” appear. Not a sole used the new name, Turkmen or Russian. After the death of Turkmenbashi they renamed many things (5).
In 2013 (6) the city government of Volgograd voted to rename its city for 6 days a year back to Stalingrad. This happened under the banner of remembering veterans, but opposite views say it is just a political move to gain momentum. Whatever the view, it still brings a about a lot of discussion. Russia`s old capital, St. Petersburg, is still named Leningrad by most citizens (over 30) of the former Soviet countries. To conclude: renaming a city will most definitely influence people and its society (if only on a city level), however if this influence flows in the direction of the instigator is highly doubtable.
2. Koba the dread, Martin Amis, 2002, page 98