Russian Orthodox Church backs referendum suggesting renaming of former 'Stalingrad' city

(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Redboston)The Orthodox Kazan Cathedral in Volgograd, Russia, in this photo taken on March 5, 2011. (Volgograd was formerly known as Stalingrad)

The Russian Orthodox Church is said to have tentatively voiced its support of a referendum suggesting the renaming of Volgograd, the Russian city formerly known as Stalingrad.

A Washington Post blog on June said that the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed support for holding a referendum, but rather wishes to go back to the city's original name Tsaritsyn, which was the city's name since 1589 before it became Stalingrad in 1925.

In 1961, Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev conducted the program of "de-Stalinization," under which Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd – after the Volga River that flows through it.

The program was an effort to reduce the perceived cult of personality surrounding long-time Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose legacy remains controversial to this day.

However, due to Stalingrad's importance as a symbol of resistance during the Russian Civil War, the renaming in 1961 remains controversial.

A strong degree of local support which favors Stalingrad still remains in Volgograd, but until now the Russian government has turned down proposals, including a list of more than 50,000 names earlier this year, wanting to revert the city's name back to Stalingrad.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has not taken part in the debate publicly until a statement he made to war veterans last week, at the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Deauville, France.

In a blog post, Washington Post reports that Putin expressed support for a referendum on the Volgograd name change, but said that it would be up to residents to decide.

While Putin at times have shown fondness for Russia's Soviet past, in 2005 describing its collapse as a "genuine tragedy," he also has vehemently spoken against Stalin and the cult surrounding the late Soviet leader, not wanting to be associated with the Stalin regime's "mass violations of the law," repressions and prison camps.

Spokespeople representing Putin later also clarified that Putin supports holding a referendum, but that this should not be interpreted as the President supporting a name change.

Stalingrad carries additional significance in Russia as the site of the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II.

The battle was one of the hardest fought battles on World War II's Eastern Front, and a turning point in the war where Russia ensured the complete defeat of Nazi Germany's 6th Army.

However, the victory was hard-won, and one of the bloodiest in the history of warfare, leaving the city in ruins and an estimated two million soldiers and civilians dead.

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