Flap Over Renamed Solzhenitsyn Street

MTA man walking down the renamed Ulitsa Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Thursday, the 90th anniversary of the writer's birth. Residents and firms are complaining that the name change is costing them time and money.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn would have turned 90 on Thursday, but residents and companies on the newly named Ulitsa Alexander Solzhenitsyn were not celebrating.

They were complaining about the paperwork and costs of changing all their documents after the winding historic street was renamed on Dec. 2 in honor of one of Russia's greatest 20th-century writers.

"This is a big headache for us. It will take time and money to change all our founding documents and all the agreements we have signed up to today. And nobody has offered to cover our expenses, of course," said Svetlana Anikina, chief accountant at the private school Sotrudnichestvo, located at 9A Ulitsa Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

"We won't just have to change all our documents but also all our advertising," said Olga Goryacheva, a legal expert at the Kobelivker and Partners law firm, which is at No. 17. "There are so many new districts still under construction in Moscow. Why not to use them rather than create problems for people?"

President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree when Solzhenitsyn died in August that "recommended" that the Moscow city government name a street after the writer. The decree didn't specify which street.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov issued an order a few days later to rename Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa, located close to the Taganka Theater, which put on the first staging of a work by Solzhenitsyn. The late Soviet dissident and Nobel literature laureate is best known for his exposes of Soviet repression in his massive "Gulag Archipelago" trilogy and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."

The choice of Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa, or Big Communist Street, is angering the Communist Party as well. Renaming the street is "not only a gross breach of existing legislation but also a challenge to all people with communist views because Solzhenitsyn always fought with the communists," said Sergei Udaltsov, coordinator of the Left Front political movement.

Left Front organized a protest Tuesday, attracting about 100 people including Vladimir Lakeyev, head of the Communist faction in the Moscow City Duma. The protesters rehung a street sign reading Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa on No. 24, an apartment building.

Left Front members had salvaged two of the old street signs after they were taken down, said Maxim Firsov, a Left Front activist.

The protesters have sent a formal complaint to the Moscow City Court and collected about 1,000 signatures of support from local residents, both those who live on the street and nearby, Udaltsov said.

"Many are unhappy for ideological reasons, and many are unhappy about having to change documents," Udaltsov said.

Although the city administration says it will compensate residents for the expense of changing documents, the only documents being changed for free are passports, Udaltsov said.

Left Front has filed a complaint to the Moscow City Court and is waiting for a response.

Lyudmila Drobysheva, a pensioner who lives at No. 24, complained that she needed to change her bank account details as well as her passport.

She said her neighbors had faced a problem as well: They gave their address as Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya when they called for an ambulance and were told that no such street existed.

Solzhenitsyn "is not connected with this street in any way, and he is not someone familiar to us," said Valentina Kitayeva, her neighbor at No. 24. "It wasn't long ago that we even heard of his existence. Who is pushing for him? Let them keep our old name."

Ulitsa Alexander Solzhenitsyn's pre-revolutionary name was Bolshaya Alexeyevskaya Ulitsa, a name which is still commemorated in a sign on the Church of St. Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome. Many streets with Soviet names had their pre-Revolutionary names returned in the 1990s, but quite a few remain, especially in outlying districts.

The name change to honor Solzhenitsyn was controversial from the start because Moscow law only allows a street to be named after a famous figure 10 years after the death. However, the City Duma voted in September for an amendment that allows a presidential decree to overrule the law — ignoring objections from Communist and Yabloko lawmakers and a demonstration by residents.

The 10-year rule has been ignored before. In 2004, a new street in Moscow was named after assassinated Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who died that year.

The latest renaming shows the extent to which Solzhenitsyn was embraced and respected by the post-Soviet leadership. As president, Vladimir Putin visited the author several times and quoted him in speeches. Solzhenitsyn was awarded a state prize in 2007.

Meanwhile, a new web site dedicated to Solzhenitsyn's life and work opened Thursday. The Russian-language site, www.solzhenitsyn.ru, includes biographical information, news and links to many of his works.