To hold itself together, U.S.S.R. weighs a new name Suggestions show debate on future

September 26, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Will the U.S.S.R. become the U.S.S.S.? Or perhaps the U.E.A.R.?

The reformist trend to rename ships, streets and cities yesterday reached the whole of the disillusioned, disintegrating Soviet empire as a number of proposals were floated for new names for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Three names were mentioned at a session of parliament that saw contentious debate over plans for a union treaty to define a new alliance. Rafik N. Nishanov, deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, listed the proposals, likely the first of many:

* Union of Sovereign Socialist States. This is President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's candidate. It promotes the feisty republics to sovereign states while hanging onto "Socialist," a necessity for the man who still heads the Communist Party.

* Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics. The idea of a group of deputies from Kazakhstan, the name recognizes the fast fading of the people's allegiance to socialism. But it holds on to "Soviet," the term for the local governing councils and parliaments that were long rubber-stamp bodies but have made a big comeback since the first contested elections last year.

* Union of Euro-Asian Republics. From a group of radical deputies, this name is a variation on a name proposed a year ago by the human rights activist Andrei D. Sakharov.

Starting in 1987, Soviet places and objects renamed for the increasingly discredited former leaders Leonid I. Brezhnev and Konstantin U. Chernenko began to return to their old names. The city of Brezhnev once again was called Naberezhnye Chelny; the town of Chernenko got back its old name, Sharypovo.

Next, with the intensive discussion of the Stalinist terror came another wave of renamings. Shamed Soviet officials, for instance, took the name of the Stalinist ideologist Andrei HD off a Moscow district and metro stop and Leningrad State University.

In the republics, nationalism caught up with the "internationalist" tradition of naming the main street and main square in every republican capital for V. I. Lenin. From Vilnius, Lithuania, to Tbilisi, Georgia, local heroes displaced Lenin on street signs.

Finally, in recent months, a less ideological, more nostalgic trend joined in. The city of Kalinin took its old name of Tver. Gorky went back to the name Nizhny Novgorod. And Moscow's main drag, Gorky Street, became Tverskaya Street.

The three names mentioned yesterday were optimistic in assuming that a substantial union can still be preserved by the negotiations. Some deputies suggested that the nature and name of the union should be decided by a national referendum.

So far, the three Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are boycotting union treaty negotiations and insisting on full independence. Nationalists in several other of the 15 Soviet republics, notably the Ukraine and Moldava, are fiercely opposed to signing any union treaty.

A fourth proposed name discussed yesterday came from someone who believes the empire cannot hold together: the exiled writer Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn. In a 16-page manifesto published last week in two official newspapers, Mr. Solzhenitsyn proposed a smaller union of the Slavic republics of Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia and part of Kazakhstan. His controversial name: the Russian Union.

The perceived Russian chauvinism behind Mr. Solzhenitsyn's plan came in for severe criticism yesterday during an extensive discussion of his article, his first publication on contemporary politics in the Soviet press in a quarter-century.

In a scene unimaginable not long ago, President Gorbachev seriously and at length debated the absent Mr. Solzhenitsyn, calling him "undoubtedly a great man" but rejecting his vision for Russia. Mr. Gorbachev's polemic at the parliamentary session was shown on national television last night.

Mr. Gorbachev said he had read the Solzhenitsyn article twice and said it deserved "serious analysis."

"As a Russian, I fully grasped the pain and alarm for the fate of the Russian people, for the fate of Russia," Mr. Gorbachev said. "But at the same time, as a Russian I resolutely cannot agree with Alexander Isayevich's position in relation to other peoples. In the most mild evaluation, this is a disrespectful position."

Mr. Gorbachev accused Mr. Solzhenitsyn of having political views that are "all in the past, the past Russia, the czarist monarchy."

"For me, this is unacceptable," he said.

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