Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, voted in favour of keeping the name of Leningrad. That said, he would do otherwise now. In any case, the Rector is convinced that such decisions should not be taken in the heat of the moment
Mr Kropachev, did you take part in the poll on the return of the city's name in 1991? What did you expect from the name change, have your expectations ever been fulfilled?
Speaking of renaming the city, we should not forget that 54% of the residents voted in favour of reverting to the old name. However, 42% were in favour of keeping the name Leningrad. This is a huge figure – almost half of all the people who voted.
At the time, I thought these people were in the vast majority, but they were not as socially active as the proponents of renaming, and they needed support.
It was easy for me to understand them. These people were born in Leningrad, grew up and made their lives here. Many of them graduated from Leningrad State University. In the minds of many people, this name was inextricably linked with the heroism of the people of Leningrad during the Siege. My grandparents were Siege survivors. Those who supported the name of St Petersburg wanted a change for the better. I voted to keep the name Leningrad.
Changing the name of the city is a sensitive issue. It was driven by the last months of the Soviet Union. The state was changing rapidly and this process was inevitably marked by human tragedy and the destruction of the established institutions.
Of course, there were also positive changes in the country. I thought that we should not jump to conclusions, we ought to wait, think carefully, weigh everything up and only then make such decisions.
Should such serious decisions be made at a time of emotional turmoil? I am convinced not. That's why I voted against the renaming. Pretty soon, however, I realised that I was wrong.
Do you often refer to St Petersburg by its old name?
Back in school, I used to call our city Piter. But, let me stress it once again, I voted for Leningrad. Our family lived through the Siege, so any memory of it, of my grandfather and grandmother, and the city will again be Leningrad for me. This is understandable, I think.
What are your favourite places in St Petersburg? And which ones are most associated with Leningrad?
The Neva River, the Fontanka River, the Summer Garden, Palace Square and the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island.
45 years of my life have been connected with St Petersburg University, which is in itself one of the symbols of our city and country. So I don't think it will be a surprise if I name the main building of St Petersburg University, the Twelve Collegia building, which has housed the University for more than 200 years, as my favourite place.
It is not only the largest monument of the baroque period of Peter the Great, but is also one of the symbols of that period of dramatic transformation in Russian history. I see particular significance in the fact that this building belongs to a university, because without science and education there can be no successful development of the state.
In 1989, Leningrad State University lost the name of Andrei Zhdanov, and in February 1992 it became St Petersburg University instead of Leningrad. How did the University benefit from being renamed? Do you wish you could bring back something from the Soviet era to the University?
The University has changed its name several times in different historical eras. The name Leningrad State University is known and remembered all over the world, especially in the post-Soviet states. It is not just part of the history of our University, but of our country as well.
As for the name St Petersburg State University, it is not exactly a new name. The phrase 'St Petersburg University' was widely known in the world even before the revolution. It was the first and main university for the whole country. I want to emphasise, however, that the most important point here is not the name. It is the people who work at the University and the results of their work that the city of St Petersburg and Russia are proud of.
Could you tell us about the relationship between the University and the city of St Petersburg? Are there any issues that require further discussion? In what areas have you achieved mutual understanding?
There are very good relations. Recent joint projects include the Area of St Petersburg University Development and the innovative science and technology centre ’The Neva Delta’ that will provide advanced scientific and educational infrastructure.
We have already talked about history today. St Petersburg University is now on the threshold of a great new era in its development. Our new model, ensuring the unity of education, science and innovation, after its successful implementation in the Development Area, will set a new high standard for many universities in Russia and abroad.
The ‘Neva Delta’ Innovative Science and Technology Centre is an integral part of this project. Its concept has already been approved by the city government. At the beginning of June, the Governor Alexander Beglov signed an agreement on the participation of the city of St Petersburg in the creation and development of the Centre.
The ‘Neva Delta’ Innovative Science and Technology Centre shall promote rapid industrialisation of the University's research and will play an important role in the scientific and technological development of the state and business.
Is St Petersburg University still planning to move out of the centre of the Northern capital? If so, do you plan to keep St Petersburg in the name of the University?
You have been misled. I have never said that the University plans to leave the historic buildings in the city centre. Let me stress it again: the University does not intend to leave its current premises, as long as they provide adequate environment for the academic process and research work.
I should say that I didn't really understand your question about the 'St Petersburg name'. The Area of St Petersburg University Development will not be located in Moscow, Saratov or Rostov. It will be located in our city – on the territory of the Pushkinsky District of St Petersburg. It would therefore be strange to talk about changing the name of the country's oldest university.
Once again, the University is not leaving the city and the historical buildings. If anyone writes or says otherwise, it is misinformation.