It is a name synonymous with perhaps Moscow’s greatest military triumph, an internecine six-month standoff that killed well over 1 million people. But in 1961, Stalingrad was quickly renamed Volgograd as part of incipient efforts to remove the cult of Stalin from the Soviet Union.
Locals, however, have long agitated for the city to revert to its Soviet-era name – and now senior Russian officials are proposing a referendum. At the weekend, the city re-adopted its old name for a day as it celebrated the 70th anniversary of the decisive second world war battle in which Soviet forces finally encircled and routed Nazi units. On Monday, the upper house speaker Valentina Matvienko suggested that a plebiscite might give citizens of the city a chance to decide its name once and for all.
“This battle is known all over the world as a turning point,” Matvienko said. “Everyone knows that in Paris they have a metro station called Stalingrad. But we need to ask the people of the city, we need a referendum, [to decide] on renaming. There are pros and cons to this issue.”
Other leaders in parliament have also spoken in favour of a vote. The communists have collected 100,000 signatures in support of turning the clocks back to Stalingrad. In a controversial move, Stalin’s image adorns five buses that are to run in the city until Victory Day on 9 May.
The top election official, Vladimir Churov, said he would be happy to set up a referendum.
If a change is agreed, it would be the third time the city has changed its name in the past 100 years. It was called Tsaritsyn until 1925.
[Image via German Federal Archive, Creative Commons licensed]