North Ossetian blogger Batraz Misikov was charged with ‘inciting hatred’ after making comments in support of renaming Lenin Street in Vladikavkaz to that of a local WWII hero and criticising the Communist Party’s opposition to the move.
‘I know that by making this statement, I’m already running into a “corner”, but magis amica veritas’, the blogger wrote on 19 May, quoting a Latin phrase which translates to ‘truth is a better friend’.
‘The “Rus” organisation [a Russian cultural organisation in North Osseria] can rename a street’, he wrote. ‘The organisation “Nyfs” [an Ossetian cultural organisation in North Ossetia] cannot rename a street’.
‘That’s it’, he wrote, concluding the post with a ‘shrug’ emoji.
In early April, Nyfs chair and an MP of the Russian parliament of North Ossetian origin, Valery Gazzayev, made a request to the republic’s authorities and the mayor’s office of Vladikavkaz to rename Lenin Street to Kaurbek Toguzov street, after a famous WWII hero who awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.
‘This symbolic act will be an important step in preserving historical memory and strengthening the patriotic spirit among the population in a difficult period for the country’, the letter signed by Gazzayev and other notable Ossetian public figures and addressed to the head of the region, Sergei Menyailo, reads.
Shortly after the letter was made public, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) sharply condemned the initiative.
Renaming the street ‘is tantamount to the loss of conscience and moral principles,’ and such a proposal ‘is not just a betrayal of the Soviet past but also undermines Russia’s international positions and the destruction of the state’, a KPRF statement reads, before making a direct comparison with Ukraine. ‘It all started in the country [Ukraine] with the demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers and commanders.’
Deputy Chair of the Central Committee of the Communist Party Dmitry Novikov said that the proposal was a ‘cynical provocation’ and pointed out that Toguzov was awarded the Order of Lenin, which in his stated view, made a renaming of the street — which he termed ‘spitting in the direction of the founder of the USSR’ — a ‘humiliation’ of Toguzov himself.
In response to the Communists’ condemnation, Misikov then made another Telegram post in which he called the party ‘red sectarians’ and said: “Russians can rename the whole city of Leningrad in honour of their tsar and his heavenly patron, but Ossetians cannot rename one street in honour of their hero.’
It was after these comments that the North Ossetian FSB sent the comments made by the blogger to two ‘psycho-linguistic experts’, Inna and Oscar Kunavin, who were to determine if his comments constituted an ‘incitement of hatred’.
On 20 May, the two experts concluded that the blogger’s statements contained ‘propaganda of the superiority of Russians over Ossetians’ and directed ‘words and statements aimed at inciting hatred, enmity’, against the Communist Party and the Russian government.
As a result, a criminal case has been launched and Misikov faces a fine of up ₽20,000 ($310).
In a video statement posted to Telegram, the blogger said that he knew the two experts consulted by the FSB and that they previously had a dispute with him — which he claims influenced their decision.
Speaking with OC Media, Misikov said that he and others who want to rename Lenin street simply want to honour the memory of an Ossetian hero.
‘We just wanted to honour the name of Kaurbek Toguzov, a participant in the Battle of Stalingrad and a Hero of the Soviet Union, who lived on Lenin street in Vladikavkaz’, he said. ‘In North Ossetia and throughout Russia, there are enough Lenin streets, so we hoped for understanding from the authorities.’
He said he believes that the charges against him are ‘political’ because of his independent blogging and journalism.
‘This is evidenced by the inadequate reaction of the Communist Party, in which the initiative was compared with the perpetuation of the memory of SS soldiers. I was also accused of propagating “the superiority of Russians over Ossetians,” although this is not logical because I am Ossetian’, Misikov said.
North Ossetia Head Sergei Menyailo and Mayor of Vladikavkaz Vyacheslav Mildzikhov have remained silent about the renaming initiative.