Saint Leningrad – It Happened Today, January 26, 2017

On January 26 of 1924 the Soviet government renamed the former St. Petersburg "Leningrad." It was an ominous move though not as ominous as moving the capital to Moscow on March 12 1918, a dramatic symbol of its rejection of Russia’s always uneasy membership in Western civilization. But it also led to one of those great jokes Soviet oppression engendered.

By way of background, the tsars had already changed the somewhat Germanic-sounding "St. Petersburg” to Petrograd (Петроград) on the outbreak of World War I. So after World War II, the authorities are processing all sorts of displaced persons and the bureaucrats ask this somewhat baffled old guy "Where were you born?" "St. Petersburg." "Where did you live before the Revolution?" "Petrograd." "Where did you live before the Great Patriotic War?" "Leningrad." "Where do you want to live now?" "St. Petersburg."

Sadly, had he been younger and lived a long life he might have got his wish insofar as Leningrad was renamed St. Petersburg in 1991. But the spirit of openness and affiliation with the West that had never been sufficiently embraced before 1914, including by the towering Peter the Great himself, was neither understood nor accepted after the fall of Communism particularly by the Russian political elite. Under Putin in particular it’s still really Leningrad and the capital is still in the inward-looking Moscow not Russia’s window on Europe and the free world beyond.

It’s a great pity, for the Russian people and for us.