National Archive finds streets named after Red Army soldiers inappropriate

Valery Chkalov shaking hands with Stalin in a photo dated from 1936.
Valery Chkalov shaking hands with Stalin in a photo dated from 1936. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Pravda

A report compiled by the National Archives of Estonia has found that commemorating fallen Red Army soldiers in public space by naming streets after them, is inappropriate and incompatible with contemporary understandings of Estonian history and culture.

At its meeting on October 13, the Place Names Board of Estonia decided to ask historians for further information regarding seven Red Army soldiers after whom some modern-day streets in Estonian cities are named.

The board approached the National Archive, to request details, which would help inform its decisions about how to proceed regarding the streets named after Mihhail Rumjantsev, Aleksei Juhhanov, Arsenti Bastrakov, Benito Agirre (Also known as Inazio Agirregoikoa or Ignacio Agirregoicoa Benito), Igor Grafov, Mihhail Gorbatš and Valeri Tškalov.

Historians were asked to assess whether these individuals were involved in activities hostile to the Estonian state or people. If so, this would render the use of their names incompatible with contemporary understandings of Estonian history and culture.

Valdur Ohmann and Tiit Noormets, chief specialists at the National Archives summarized the findings as follows.

"In 1940, Estonia was occupied by the Red Army and annexed by the Soviet Union. Accordingly, and as the subsequent history of the war between the Soviet Union and Germany has shown, in 1944 the war between the Soviet Union and Germany was not about liberating Estonia, but about (re)conquering territory. Thus, the commemoration of the fallen Red Army soldiers in Estonia's public space, as is the case with street names in (Estonian) towns, is not appropriate in accordance with political and universal principles."

The report also included explanations of each of the seven Red Army soldiers' backgrounds.

Mihhail Rumjantsevi tänav, Sillamäe

Born in Sillamäe, Ida-Viru County in 1957, Mikhail Rumjantsev was a Soviet soldier, who served in Afghanistan from February 1982 until he was killed on February 14, 1983. He is buried in the village of Sinimäe. In 1989, it was decided that the street in Sillamäe, which had previously been named after Andrei Zhdanov should be renamed Rumjantsevi tänav. In 2009, the Sillamäe City Council decided to change the name again, to Mihhail Rumjantsevi tänav. Experts at the National Archives say that, while 36 Estonian men died in the war in Afghanistan, with the exception of Mihhail Rumjantsev, no streets have been named in their honor. Historians point out, that, even though Estonians died during the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan, it was not a war of the Republic of Estonia. Therefore, it is inappropriate for a street in Estonia to continue to be named after Rumjantsev.

Juhhanovi tänav, Narva

Born in 1913 in the Ryazan Governorate, Alexei Juhhanov was a Soviet army lieutenant who took part in the invasion of Estonian territory in 1944. Juhhanov was seriously wounded twice and died on September 20, 1944, after which he was buried in the cemetery in Narva-Jõesuu. On March 24, 1945, Juhhanov was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the USSR. There is currently a Juhhanovi tänav in Narva, Ida-Viru County.

Bastrakovi tänav, Narva

Born in 1919 in Kirov Oblast, Arsenti Bastrakov took part in the February 1944 attack on Narva as part of the 64th Infantry Division. Bastrakov was reportedly killed on February 17, 1944 in the battle for the Auvere railway station in Narva-Jõesuu. Bastrakov was buried in Sinimäe cemetery and posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the USSR on October 5, 1944. There is currently a Bastrakovi tänav in Narva.

Benito Agirre tänav in Mustvee

Inazio Agirregoikoa (or Ignacio Agirregoicoa Benito), born in Spain in 1923, was a Basque-born pilot who fought on the side of the Soviets during World War 2 and was killed in an exchange of fire on Estonian soil.

On March 9, 1944, Aguirre, who had taken off from the Gdov (Oudova) airbase, was forced to make an emergency landing near Mustvee on Lake Peipus after being hit by German anti-aircraft fire.

After landing and being confronted by members of the Omakaitse (Home Guard), Agirregoikoa shot himself to avoid capture. Local residents originally buried "Agirre" in Mustvee, with his remains later moved to another cemetery in the same town in 1973.

According to historian Kaupo Deemant, Aguirre may have been involved in the bombing of Tallinn or spying on the port of Mustvee, however, there is no conclusive proof. Deemant speculated, that it may only have been the downing of Aguirre, which prevented Mustvee from being bombed during the war. Therefore, the historian considers it inappropriate for a street in the town to be named after the pilot.

It has previously been suggested that Mustvee's Benito Agirre tänav be renamed "Kiriku" (Church), "Jõe" (River) or "Silla" (Bridge) tänav.

Grafovi tänav, Narva

Igor Grafov, was a Soviet soldier, born in Petrograd in 1923. Grafov commanded the anti-aircraft battery's machine gun group at the time when the Red Army reached the Narva River in February 1944. Grafov was killed in action on February 22 and buried in a common cemetery in Kingissep, Russia. On July 1, 1944, he was posthumously named a hero of the Soviet Union. A memorial to Grafov was erected in Narva, at the place of his death, but was removed earlier this year. Narva still has a Grafovi tänav.

Gorbatši tänav, Narva

Born in 1916 in Ukraine, Mihhail Gorbatš took part in the invasion of Estonian territory in 1944. Gorbatš was killed in the Battle of Narva sometime after February 11, 1944 and awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Gorbatš is buried in Narva-Jõesuu cemetery and there is a street in Narva called Gorbatši tänav.

Tškalovi tänav, Sillamäe

Valeri Tškalov, born in Russia in 1904, was a Soviet test pilot. Among Tškalov's greatest achievements was his participation in a 63-hour non-stop flight from Moscow to Vancouver, Washington in the US via the North Pole in 1937.

Tškalov was killed on December 15, 1938  while piloting a Polikarpov I-180 prototype, and buried in Moscow next to the Kremlin. There is a Tškalovi tänav in Sillamäe, and, as of 2017, there are also 1,334 streets in Russia named after Tškalov.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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