Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov signed a decree on October 5 changing the name of Victory Avenue (Prospekt Pobeda) in the Chechen capital Grozny to V.V. Putin Avenue (Prospekt imeni V.V. Putina). Interfax quoted Grozny’s mayor, Muslim Khuchiev, as saying of the move: “In this way his [Putin’s] outstanding service in the fight against terrorism [and] the restoration of the Chechen Republic’s economy and the social sphere is commemorated.”
Newsru.com noted that October 5, the day the decree was signed, was also Kadyrov’s 32nd birthday, Grozny City Day and the start of festivities marking the 420th anniversary of the establishment of “good-neighborly” relations between Russia and Chechnya. Tens of thousands of inhabitants of Grozny and other parts of Chechnya gathered on the capital’s Akhmat Kadyrov Square, from which Putin Avenue runs, for the ceremony marking the renaming of the avenue. Kadyrov and Vladimir Ustinov, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, were among those who participated in the ceremony, during which several thousand students lined both sides of Putin Avenue.
“As a Chechen, as a Muslim, I state that I am ready, if necessary, to die for Vladimir Putin,” Kadyrov told the crowd. “Thanks to this person we have arrived at a time in which peace and tranquility reigns in Chechnya.” He added that “terrorists from 60 countries came to Chechnya not to make it a sovereign nation, but … to turn it into a springboard for bringing down Russia. They failed to do this thanks to the decisiveness and the will of Putin, thanks to the fact that he had trust in Akhmat Kadyrov, and Akhmat Kadyrov also had the trust of the Chechen people.”
Ustinov, for his part, gave high marks for the situation in Chechnya, which he described as “stable.”
Meanwhile, Kommersant reported on October 6 that the Kremlin viewed Kadyrov’s initiative to rename Victory Avenue after Vladimir Putin “reservedly.” According to the newspaper, Kremlin sources made it clear that while Putin cannot prevent a street being named after him, he does not welcome such a step. Moskovsky Komsomolets noted on October 6 that even back during the Soviet period it was forbidden to name streets after living figures and that most of Russia’s regions have passed laws on renaming streets that retain this prohibition. In addition, some regions have laws stating that streets can be renamed after people only ten years after they have died. Indeed, Moscow’s law was recently changed so that Big Communist Street could be renamed Solzhenitsyn Street.
“In general, of course, in Russia it is not acceptable to name any objects after incumbent politicians,” Newsru.com on October 6 quoted Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, as saying. “But such decisions are taken by the authorities of a region and are not subject to agreement from the center, so that this was only Ramzan Kadyrov’s decision. Vladimir Putin has expressed his opinion on this subject more than once. He would prefer it if there were not such initiatives. But he also cannot forbid them.”
Meanwhile, Aleksandr Belov, leader of the far-right Movement Against Illegal Immigration, called Kadyrov’s decision to rename a Grozny street after Vladimir Putin “inadequate” and a “mockery” not only of Putin, but of Russia’s head of state, President Dmitry Medvedev. “This renaming of a street has made Medvedev a laughingstock in the entire world,” Belov said. “Ramzan Kadyrov showed himself to be a real Chechen by naming Grozny’s central street after Putin. However the mentality of the East, unfortunately, remains in the Middle Ages, inasmuch as there always the desire there to bow down before the more powerful [and] show that they are loved and honored. But for some reason this idea smells of insincerity … It is clear that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] is a deserving person and did a lot for the Chechen people. So there is a reason to thank Putin, but this method of showing gratitude is outdated. Although maybe there, in Chechnya, such an initiative is seen as normal.”
However, Kavkazky Uzel quoted ordinary Chechens as saying they were shocked by the initiative. “I don’t understand: how can the avenue be named in the memory of this person?” the website quoted a 60-year-old resident of Chechnya, Salakh Saidulaev, as saying. “He, just like Boris Yeltsin, was and will forever remain in the memory of our people as the main culprit in the tragedy of Chechens at the end of the last and the start of this century. It was precisely Putin, first in his capacity as chairman of the government and then as president of Russia, who gave the orders to bomb and shell our cities and villages. The victims of the rocket fire on Grozny and on the refugee columns in October 1999 are on his conscience. He, as commander-in-chief, is responsible for everything that the Budanovs and Shamanovs and others did here. I consider this decision as a disgrace.”
Salikhat, a 48-year-old Grozny resident, told Kavkazky Uzel: “Ramzan once again has demonstrated what he thinks of the opinion of the people and the tragedy that Chechens have lived through for the past 15 years through the fault of the Kremlin. First he named a street in honor of the Pskov paratroopers, then he immortalized the name of General [Gennady] Troshev here and now he has decided to elevate Putin. Of course, Putin may be an idol and God to Ramzan Kadyrov and his family, since it is precisely thanks to him that they have become who they are today.” Salikhat said that she regards Putin as the culprit in the deaths of many peaceful inhabitants of Chechnya and added that she has become disillusioned with Kadyrov because of this decision.
Abu, a 20-year-old Grozny resident, told Kavkazky Uzel: “I cannot imagine, for example, the government in Kosovo naming a street in honor of the former president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic or, let’s say, an avenue in Tskhinvali being named after Mikheil Saakashvili. I pity Ramzan. He probably himself does not realize that he is undermining his authority and honor among the population with his ill-conceived actions.” Abu also said that Putin is responsible for the deaths of Chechen civilians.
Isa, a Grozny resident and student at a local college, said of Kadyrov’s decision: “In my view, it is ordinary toadying and yet another attempt to show loyalty to the Kremlin. On television all yesterday evening they showed a portrait of Putin with an inscription written below—‘national hero of the country’. What kind of post is that? Who gave it to Putin? Ramzan? Of course, to hear and see all of this is funny and bitter at the same time. What is all this leading to?”
An activist with a local human rights group told Kavkazky Uzel. “Tens and hundreds of thousands of people in Chechnya were killed, kidnapped, disappeared without a trace or crippled. Who is responsible for that? Of course, Yeltsin and Putin. The former has already, happily for him, died, but there is the chance—at least I very much hope so—that Putin will answer for these evil deeds. To name an avenue in his honor, in my view, means to approve and support the policy he followed of ‘pacification’ of Chechnya using rocket fire, aerial bombardment, artillery attacks and ‘large-scale’ and ‘targeted’ zachistki [security sweeps]. This means to forgive him for the blood of thousands and thousands of innocent women and children. Kadyrov has yet again showed, above all, his deep dependence on Putin … Personally, this aroused only contempt in me.”
Adam, a history teacher in a Grozny school, told Kavkazky Uzel: “How can you do such things without asking for the opinion of the people? I know that if the situation here were just a bit different, people would be demonstrating in the streets of Grozny, demanding that he reverse this decision. But everyone fully understands that they weren’t given the chance to express their opinion, because everything here is suppressed. Therefore everyone is silent. But that’s only for now. I don’t think that there will be a Putin Avenue, Troshev Street or Pskov Paratroopers Street in Grozny forever.” Adam added that he thought that in the near future these names would no longer be around.