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Moscow Times
February 14, 2008
Let Sculptors Keep Their Mansion

Federal authorities' efforts to wrestle control of a historic mansion from the nongovernmental organization that restored it are appalling.

Armed with an edict signed by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov last fall, an obscure foundation supervised by the head of the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency is seeking to seize control of the Sculptor's House in central Moscow from the Moscow Sculptors' Association.

The International Foundation for the Humanitarian Cooperation of CIS Countries does not seem to be bothered by the fact that the city and the country itself owe the very existence of this 19th-century four-story mansion to the sculptors. City Hall had wanted to demolish the grand mansion, once the home of prominent poet Pyotr Vyazemsky, but the sculptors offered to restore it and were granted a 49-year lease in exchange in 1974. The sculptors not only maintain an office in the mansion but use it for free exhibitions and a sculpting school for children.

Moscow has quite a few abandoned buildings that, like this mansion on 1st Spasonalivkovsky Pereulok, are federal property.

But the CIS foundation, which has yet to contribute anything tangible to the preservation of Moscow's cultural heritage, seems to be fixated on the mansion.

The takeover attempt, which resembles an ongoing struggle over the Central House of Actors on Arbat, is so appalling that the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency insists that it has no role in it -- even though the agency's head, Mikhail Shvydkoi, is the co-chairman of the CIS foundation.

Shvydkoi might be out of a job when President Vladimir Putin leaves office in May. This has led to speculation that the foundation's drive to seize the mansion from the NGO is part of a golden parachute for outgoing officials. If that is the case, the officials should be more than ashamed. They should bear in mind that any future wave of Cabinet reshuffles might free up even more powerful contenders for downtown Moscow buildings, including this mansion.