This Europe: Queen Mother tribute irks Russian patriots

By Patrick Cockburn in Moscow
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The Independent Online

In a town deep in the Ural mountains, students are trying, in the face of some official resistance, to rename their school after Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Staff at the British consulate in Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Urals, received an official letter requesting the name change earlier this month. The school, a technical college in the city of Verkhnyaya Salda, is named after Aleksei Yevstigneev, a highly decorated soldier from the area killed in the Battle of Stalingrad.

The letter explains: "There is a tradition in Russia to name the cultural and education establishments after great people."

Harish Rajguru, the acting British consul, wrote back, saying he had passed the request to London.

The request led to mixed reactions. There was a snooty article about it in Moscow's Noviye Izvestiye newspaper, dwelling on the obscurity of Verkhnyaya Salda. It noted that "it is famous only for two things: a factory producing railway equipment and the first outbreak of Aids in the Urals".

Tatyana Lobanova, one of the teachers, says: "How can anybody be against it when it comes from the heart of young people? For us it would be an honour if we were permitted to use her name."

But Alexander Shatalov, the director of the vocational school where the college rents premises, was not pleased. "The world has changed so much, everything is permitted now," he said, adding that he thought the students just wanted to attract attention.

Changing the names of cities and streets is an old Russian custom. Yekaterinburg itself used to be known as Sverdlovsk.