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St. Petersburg or Leningrad? The Voters Get Their Say With AM-Soviet-Election, Bjt

June 13, 1991

LENINGRAD, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ The vote to rename this imperial city on the Neva River may pale when compared to the first popular election of a Russian president, but it was the only issue that mattered Wednesday to Natalia Andreyevna.

″I didn’t vote for anybody,″ the 58-year-old pensioner said after casting her ballot. ″I only voted for Leningrad.″

Under sun-drenched monuments to czarist Russia, Andreyevna and thousands of other Leningrad residents went to polling stations to vote on a non-binding referendum on restoring the name of the city of 5 million to St. Petersburg.

After midnight, a few districts reported ″a tendency″ toward support for the name change, said election committee member Yuri Lyovin. He said more than two-thirds of the eligible voters turned out, but very few regions had reported their preliminary figures. Final results were not expected until Thursday.

″Leningrad is the Communists’ sacred cow,″ said Yuri Bobrov, a 44-year- old art school administrator who voted to revert to the name St. Petersburg. ″They had this ideology that nobody could ever violate. ... The name Leningrad is connected to it.″

Andreyevna was less concerned about communism.

″My parents suffered here, and they were killed during the blockade″ of Leningrad by Nazi Germany, she said. ″That’s why I voted ‘No.’ I was born in Leningrad, I live in Leningrad and I want to die in Leningrad.″

Her story and thousands like it have been championed by the local Communist Party, which led the fight against the changing the name.

City Council chairman Anatoly Sobchak, who was seeking election Wednesday to a mayoral post with increased powers, tried to play down the political significance of the referendum.

″This is purely a symbolic step,″ he told reporters. ″Even if Leningraders say ‘No,’ it won’t be a tragedy or a serious political defeat. It simply means people are not ready.″

Voting one block from Empress Catherine’s 17th-century winter palace, Sobchak said another vote could be held next year or even in the year 2003, the city’s 300th birthday.

″The name Leningrad has existed for only a short period in the history of this city,″ Sobchak said, adding many more people suffered as residents of St. Petersburg than after the city was renamed Leningrad.

The city was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and given the Germanic name St. Petersburg. It was given the Russianized name Petrograd in 1914 after the start of World War I, then renamed again by the national legislature in 1924 following the death of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.

Opponents of another change, including Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, have said final approval would have to come from the national legislature. But Sobchak said approval is needed only from the Russian Federation parliament.

″First we’ll have to find out what the people of the city think. Then we’ll think about what to do next,″ Sobchak said.

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