Seventy years ago this weekend, the southern Russia city of Volgograd was the site of the battle that turned the tide of World War II. To commemorate that victory, the city is returning to its old name, Reuters reported — Stalingrad.
Named in honor of Stalin in 1925, the city changed its name to Volgograd in 1961 “as part of the Soviet Union’s rejection of dictator Joseph Stalin’s personality cult,” according to ABC News.
This Saturday, it officially became Stalingrad to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the battle that claimed 2 million lives. The city will do so again on five other days commemorating the victory.
Sergei P. Zabednov, the Volgograd city lawmaker who drafted the measure, told the New York Times that the move was not intended to rehabilitate Stalin but rather “return respect” to the millions of Russian veterans who fought in the war.
Several of the city’s minibuses are now decorated with Stalin’s portraits in memory of his role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, according to the Washington Post.
Though remembered throughout the world as a dictator responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of his citizens, Stalin’s popularity is making a comeback in his motherland.
According to the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency, 22% of Russians said in 2012 that Stalin played a “negative role” in the country’s development, down from 60% in 1998, reported the Times.
Some in Volgograd want to make the name change permanent. Reuters reported that a group of local communists have collected 35,000 signatures for a petition and plans to take their demands to court in the next few weeks.
However, bringing back the name Stalingrad, even temporarily, has angered other Russians. Nikolai Levichev, a senior lawmaker with the leftist A Just Russia party, told the Associated Press that it is “blasphemous to rename the great Russian city after a bloody tyrant who killed millions of his fellow citizens.”