The beautiful city on the Sea of Azov, founded by Greeks and named after Panagia in 1879. In 1948 it was renamed “Zhdanov”, the name of a well-known associate of Stalin, born in Mariupol, who had died the same year.
At the end of July, the Russians began circulating information about a possible renaming of Mariupol, now occupied by them, through a “referendum” in September.
With his post on Telegram, the mayor’s adviser Petr Andryuchenkomade it known that the municipal council is discussing putting for approval in the “referendum” the possibility of restoring its name Andrei Zhdanov”, while the head of the movement of Russian veterans of Afghanistan, Vasily Turianitsain an interview, said that, “in an informal referendum, the renaming of Mariupol to Zhdanov may also be proposed”.
“It will not be a great surprise to me if there is a return of the name of the “slaughterer of the people” Andrei Zhdanov, who in the years of the Great Terror, as a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee, signed the execution lists, while in the fall of 1937, there was head of the purges (repressions) of the KKSE”, tells the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency Valentina Konop-Liascoto which belongs the initiative for the restoration of the name of Mariupol by Zhdanov, in 1989.
In January 1989, an era of Perestroika when few could have imagined that in less than three years the Soviet Union would have dissolved, the capital of the Azov region changed its name from Zhdanov to the historical toponym Mariupol. The beautiful city on the Sea of Azov, founded by Greeks and named after the Virgin Mary in 1879, was renamed in 1948 to “Zhdanov”, the name of a well-known associate of Stalin, born in Mariupoli, who had died the same year.
Mariupol, the return to the name of the Virgin Mary
Forty years later, in 1989, the city took the name of Panagia again as a result of a great struggle of the residents, the majority of whom are Greeks, with the main character being the 84-year-old Greek Valentina Konop-Liasco, who lives with her husband, war refugees, in Hellas. “In 1987, the years when perestroika began in the USSR, we envisioned the return of the city’s Greek name,” she says: “It all started at the Technical University (PSTU) of Mariupol, (then Zhdanov), where I was an assistant professor. We created an initiative group “For Mariupol”, which set the goal of returning the historical name of the city. Philosophy professor Yakunin was elected head of the group. Our group, which grew every day, included great people, intellectuals of the city, associate professors, artists, journalists and those citizens who wished to contribute to the return of the name, “he narrates. “We met every week, in my small apartment most of the time and there drinking tea, wine and eating snacks, we exchanged opinions, and sometimes we argued trying to find a way out of the issue. We had no means of informing the townspeople of our decisions. We wrote the announcements by hand, sometimes on a typewriter, we organized gatherings in the central square, in the city garden, in the House of Culture “Iskra”. But always under the approval of the Executive Committee (Municipality) and the local committee of the communist party.
“You Greeks are thinking all this”
Often they wouldn’t give us consent, but we didn’t back down. We were helped by the wind of change, of Perestroika. So, in order to reach more residents, we decided to collect signatures. Also to support our struggle, we created a mobile artistic group and organized concerts, poetry performances, guitar songs, speeches by well-known personalities, which were directed against the Stalinist communist regime. We performed in workers’ clubs, in schools and in the forecourts of workers’ housing. We used to put up posters in the city late at night, but the police (and not only!) would tear them down!” he says, and continues: “Despite Perestroika, the content of our speeches should definitely have been coordinated and agreed with the municipal committee of the Communist Party of Greece. Artists and painters organized arbitrary exhibitions of anti-Stalinist works. At the rallies, there were sometimes tensions. “You Greeks are thinking all this!” shouted those who were not interested in the history of the city”, remembers Valentina Konop-Liasco. But along with perestroika came “glasnost” – freedom in the media. Critical articles about Zhdanov began to appear in “Ogonyok” – a multi-million-issue magazine, as well as in many other magazines and newspapers.
Valentina Liasco and her friends knew that no one from the authorities wanted (or dared) to get involved in the history of changing (returning) the name of the city, because apart from the political costs, as they said, such a change would also burden the state budget. But by the end of 1988, the initiative group “For Mariupol” had collected 65,000 signatures, the number of supporters of the return of the city’s historical name was six times greater than the number of “opponents”. But the number of inactive citizens for the name was also large.
“Gorbachev’s close associate…”
“I remember that in all the celebratory demonstrations – parades or marches, our group “For Mariupoli” stood out with our own posters, songs, slogans, while through a megaphone we addressed the citizens to support us. When we collected several thousand signatures, we started looking for money to send a committee member to Moscow. Indeed, one day the professor with the signatures in the suitcase traveled to Moscow and delivered them to Alexander Yakovlev, Perestroika ideologue, head of the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the CPSU and member of the Central Committee of the CPSU, and a close associate of Gorbachev. Valentina Konop-Liasco describes the events 35 years ago in a melancholy mood fearing a possible change, with the return of the name “Zhdanov” by the occupying Russian authorities of Russia. Back to the narrative: “After a year of intense action, in January 1988, in the newspaper “Ergatis tis Azofiki” an article was published – a message about a positive decision of the party authorities regarding our issue. Before the publication, no one officially supported us, not even the newspaper itself, not even at the meetings of the Municipal Council, where we went protesting, the climate was favorable. “It’s not time yet!”, they told us. “After the impact of the publication in the local newspaper in favor of the return of the historical name, we believed that we will finally have democratic changes in our country! Thus, in 1989, the historical name returned to our city. It was the first in a series of renamings that followed in the USSR during the era of perestroika,” says Ms. Liasco. He remembers how they wanted to celebrate their victory, publicly and solemnly in the city’s theater, but their proposal was not accepted. “We finally celebrated it in my apartment, with champagne. We sang together, we read poems by well-known beloved poets of the time of changes we were living in.” Later, when Valentina Konop-Liasco was working with the Federation of Greek Associations of Ukraine, its president, Alexandra Prochenko, supported the idea of writing a book about the return of the name “Marioupoli”. “I again created a team, divided the work areas and then collected archival data and photographs. This is how the book Mariupol: the return of the name appeared, in which, among other things, there was a photo of the fallen huge monument to Zhdanov, on a platform face down, dismantled at night, before dawn, according to KGB tactics.
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