Whatever happens, the naming committees should consult the people of Narva, especially those living on these streets, as to whether they want the names changed, and even more to the point – if they want to live on a street named after a man their predecessors rose up against, writes semiotician, journalist and cultural critic Piret Karro.
One hundred and fifty years have just passed since the historic Narva factory workers' strike. In the late summer of 1872, workers at the Kreenholm factory organized a strike against their inhumane working conditions. Now, on this anniversary, Narva has been asked to change its street names, including (the street named after) Vassili Gerassimov, who took part in the strike, to (be renamed after) founder of the Kreenholm factory, Johann Ludwig Knoop. Why name a street after a man against whom this city has a history of protest?
Before the strike of 1872, 70 percent of Kreenholm's workers were Estonian men, women and children who had come to the city in search of employment after fleeing poverty in the countryside. Ludwig von Knoop lived in Moscow, preferring not to even set foot in Narva. Knoop's henchman on-the-spot henchman was Ernst Kolbe, hated by his subordinates for his cruelty. Outside his office door, weavers and spinners, more than two-thirds of the entire working class, flocked to demand an improvement in their conditions. The working day began at 5 a.m., workers were forced to work in the factory, their monthly wages were reduced by all manner of fines and taxes, and the sanitary conditions in the barracks encouraged the spread of cholera. Children were also beaten, and the youngest often died. For several weeks during the later part of that summer, Knoop's name was used as a delaying tactic, so that when the landlords arrived from Moscow, the strikers could talk to them directly. However, no one saw the founder of the factory, because he was lurking on the other side of the river, and sent Prince Mihhail Šahhovskoi-Glebov-Strešnev, the governor of Estonia, in his place, to suppress the strike with the army.
So why give a street in Narva the name of a Baltic baron, to whom the city and its inhabitants were nothing more than a source of income? According to historian Pavel Kann, Vassili Gerassimov, whose name the street now bears, was one of the leaders of the Kreenholm strike. He was recruited to work in Kreenholm directly from an orphanage in St Petersburg. If the streets are to be given Estonian names, the strike leaders Jakob Tamme and Villem Preisman would also be appropriate. Only fourteen years before the Kreenholm strike was the Mahtra War, in which the peasants rose up against the Saxons. So, why continue to worship them?
The leaders of this strike later went on to organize the workers' movements in St Petersburg. However, Amalie Kreisberg, a worker in the Kreenholm weaving department, was born in Narva and died for the city.2 In 1905, Narva was the scene of another strike, which called for the working day to be shortened to ten and a half hours, and eight and a half hours on Saturdays. Kreisberg was arrested in January 1906 and died in Kingissepp prison at the age of 26. Doesn't she deserve this street?
Whatever happens, the naming committees should consult the people of Narva, especially those living on these streets, as to whether they want the names changed, and even more to the point – if they want to live on a street named after a man their predecessors rose up against, There is a memorial to Amalie Kreisberg in Narva, on Joala tänav, by the crossroads with Gerassimovi, so I propose the street be renamed after her instead.
1 See Pavel Kann. Kreenholmi streik 1872. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat 1972
2 See Heili Reinart. "Amalie Kreisberg. "She was a dashing young woman when she was taken away - she couldn't have died of illness, she must have been tortured to death."" Helsinki. Naine.postimees.ee, October 12, 2021.
Editor: Michael Cole