Leningrad becomes St Petersburg – archive, 1991 | Russia

People of St Petersburg turn their backs on Lenin

By John Rettie in Leningrad
14 June 1991

With a clear, if not overwhelming, vote to abandon the name of Lenin and restore St Petersburg to its former glory, the citizens of Leningrad yesterday surprised all but their new mayor, Anatoly Sobchak. Opinion polls had suggested the proposal to give the city back its original name would be lost by a small margin. In the event, 55 per cent voted to go back to their roots, with 43 per cent against.

President Gorbachev, with his statement last week that ‘there are neither moral nor political grounds’ for abandoning Leningrad, may have pushed voters the other way. Public support from Patriarch Alexei probably helped. Andrei Bobrovsky, an engineer in the fire service who had been against the idea until the day before, said: ‘I thought it over and changed my mind. It seems to me that the old name is better for our city.’

It was not surprising that those who live in the fading grandeur of the great European city at its centre should want to reject the past 74 years. That a majority of voters in the bleak industrial suburbs should also do so was unexpected.

Clearly, pride in the greatness of the pre-revolutionary past prevailed. Perhaps it was also a matter of hope. The dramatic days of 1917 may be part of history, but they led to an outcome that most of its citizens have now symbolically rejected.
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St Petersburg ready to fulfil the ambition of Tsar Peter

9 September 1991

People in the Soviet Union’s second city yesterday welcomed the restoration of its old name of St Petersburg and said it might now flail its historic destiny of becoming Russia’s “window on the West” as planned by Tsar Peter in 1703. “It is symbolic at this time. It means a lot to people to get away from the (communist) past and go back to the beginning,” Viktor Sakharov, a technician, said.

Russia’s leaders scrapped the name Leningrad on Friday, a dramatic break with communism for the city that was the birthplace of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The name change formally takes effect on 1 October. Residents hope resumption of the pre-revolutionary name will give a new lease on life to a city in need of a facelift. Gaping potholes menace those lucky enough to own a car, masonry is crumbling off elegant terraces in large pieces, and the central canals no longer hold much in the way of romance.

Daily newspapers have already switched their titles in line with the change and flights from Moscow’s airport announce the new destination of “Sankt Peterburg”. The name change came as the city marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the 900-day siege by Germany in the second world war.

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