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A sign indicating the recently-renamed Heroes of Ukraine Street in Vilnius, Source: Vilnius Municipality / Sauliaus Žiūros

Vilnius Historical Memory Commission cools residents’ impetus on street renaming

Vilnius Historical Memory Commission cools residents’ impetus on street renaming

Not every street name linked to Russia and Belarus needs to be a subject of historical revision

The Russian invasion has unleashed a fervour of activities that mean to show the indignation of European residents and also their solidarity and support for the Ukrainians. Among them has been the renaming of streets, such as the one where the Russian embassy in Vilnius is located, and now called Heroes of Ukraine.

Since the latter has garnered considerable attention and applause, there has suddenly been an uplift in enthusiasm around the idea of street renaming. This is where the Vilnius Municipal Historical Memory Commission has stepped in to provide some objective perspective and separate historicity from short-term compulsive actions. When considering the proposal to change the name of the Russian (Rusų) street to Rusėnai, it was decided to keep the old street name. 

Street naming should not be subject to fads

"By renaming part of the Latvian street (where the Russian embassy is located) to Heroes of Ukraine Street, Vilnius has consolidated the attitude of the absolute majority of Vilnius residents towards Russian aggression in Ukraine. And that was first and foremost a statement. However, the Historical Memory Commission is not a commission of "current issues", we must make decisions taking into account historical facts and arguments," explained Gediminas Jaunius, Chairman of the Commission.

According to him, it will always be possible to return to this issue. In the Commission's view, changing the street names of all cities in Russia and Belarus, especially in one go, would be immeasurably hasty and would cause considerable inconvenience to businesses, institutions and residents.

Apart from those reasons, however, the Commission did not specify why it would be inappropriate to change the name of the Russian Street at this moment. In fact, that very same street has already gone through several names throughout its existence.

Its first name was The Brightest (1672), or in Polish – Przeczystenska, since back then Vilnius was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The name is believed to have been related to the nearby Church of the Brightest Mother of God in Orthodox Vilnius. Later the street was called Spaska (1808), later again The Brightest (1890, 1913), and then – Metropolija, Metropolitanska, Metropolitalna (1921, 1938), before getting its current name in 1939.

"The vast majority of the streets of Vilnius named after the cities of Russia and Belarus are the names of the historical cities of the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Grand Duchy of Lithuania). Smolensk belonged to it until the 17th century, Vitebsk, Minsk, Polotsk, Naugardukas, Druja and many others – until the end of the 18th century," noted Dr. Marius Ėmužis, another member of the Historical Memory Commission and a historian.

Still, the Commission does not exclude the possibility of returning to the consideration of changing the name, and residents of the street can also express their opinion. However, this process requires the approval of the majority of the population and strong arguments for the request.

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