Narva mayor urges caution in bus-stop renaming program

Narva mayor Katri Raik at the wheel of a city bus.
Narva mayor Katri Raik at the wheel of a city bus. Source: Narva city government.

Plans to rename up to half of the bus-stop names in the eastern border town of Narva are meeting with local opposition six years after the Ministry of the Interior unveiled the change.

The bus-stop names date back to the Soviet era and are named both after dramatic events such as the invasion of the Red Army on July 26 1944, part of the Battle of Narva which raged through much of spring and summer that year (the bus-stop is on a street of the same name – Juuli 26-ed.) and of more quotidian aspects of Narva life, such as various allotment associations (Aiandusühistus) responsible for gardens within the city limits.

Narva's population is around 96 percent majority Russian-speaking, while other historical events commemorated in street and bus-stop names include the 1704 Battle of Narva, part of the Great Northern War between the Russian and Swedish empires.

Valeria Lavrova, the organizer of a local discussions day which forms a part of the annual Station Narva festival, said that: "If a name is offensive, such as the streets named after Tiiman and Dauman, it has to be dealt with."

"It has not been considered who the members of the public who use these buses are; is it convenient for them, do they like it, is it necessary at all? This work has not been done," she went on, adding that the forced Estonianization of place names does not in her view promote integration. 

Narva's mayor, Katri Raik, an ethnic Estonia, agrees that Russian-origin names arising from the various gardening associations have become custom and are in use by both linguistic groups resident in the city.

Of the 90 bus stops in the town of around 54,000 inhabitants, over a half require renaming along Estonian lines, the interior ministry says, to bring them in line with the Place Names Act.

Raik urged caution in the matter, however.

She said: "I do not want the change of street names, or the change of bus stops as of now, in a way that would cause any kind of quarrel such as the monument or the bronze soldier," in the latter case referring to a 2007 incident in Tallinn, when the relocating of a World War Two-era monument sparked several nights' rioting by ethnic Russians.

"On July 26, 1944, Soviet troops arrived in Narva, and this event is still celebrated today," Raik continued.

"Indeed, renaming the bus-stop as [the proposed] Kanepi, which is also a word known in Narva itself, could be very controversial (Kanep is also the Estonian word for cannabis – ed.)."

"And renaming 'Peetri rist' ("Peter's cross") as 'Süsiauk' ('coal hole'), well I can't very well imagine a Russian man referring to this stop as a 'coal hole'," Raik continued.

Valeria Lavrova said Narva-dwellers are not likely to consent to either give up the Juuli 26 street name or the bus-stop of the same name very easily.

"I think we can talk about it in 50 years' time, when all these issues do not cause as much pain as they do now," she said.

Mayor Raik added that the opinion of local residents must be heard and in some cases a compromise must be found

Shortly before leaving office last October, former president Kersti Kaljulaid visited Narva and presented the town with two street signs, as a proposal for the re-titling of streets currently named after communists.

The two streets, on the outskirts of town, are named after Albert Tiimann (1889-1942), an Estonian communist, and Ants Dauman (1885-1920), a Latvian who fought on the "Red" side in the Russian civil war and consequently the wars of independence both in Estonia and in his own country, as well as in the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, in which he was killed.

The streets were given their present names in the 1970s and 1980s, while Estonia was under Soviet occupation, and have not been renamed since then.

Streets in Tallinn and Tartu, for instance, which had been named after Soviet leaders or other Soviet motifs of ideals were generally renamed around the time of independence, in 1991.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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