#21 - JRL 2009-198 - JRL Home

Voice of America
October 27, 2009
Historical Buildings Fast Disappearing in Moscow
By Jessica Golloher

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen a dramatic surge in new construction, especially in cities like Moscow. New buildings and businesses are typically welcomed in any neighborhood, especially if it helps the economy. But many in Moscow are worried that historical buildings are being sacrificed in the process. Some have even called it a "demolition derby."

The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Our Savior in Kadash was built in the mid-15th century. The cathedral sits in a mini compound, with several buildings surrounding it. The property is in a popular, high-rent district, right in the middle of Moscow. The church's gold cupolas can be seen for a great distance. The mini-compound is supposed to be legally protected by the Russian government, under a law that preserves immovable objects of historical and cultural heritage. But some say a developer's plans to build an office complex, on part of the compound and around it, are putting the church and the view at risk. Lidia Shestavoka works at the church's museum:

She says the buildings sit in a protected zone. The statutes state that there cannot be any new, large-scale building works on this land; it's prohibited by law. Nevertheless, at the moment they're clearing the land of historical buildings to start work on the new office complex.

Moscow officials have temporarily ordered the demolition to stop but the clearing and construction continues. E.S. Sinitzin directs the construction company working at the site.

He says his company has permission for the construction and demolition from Moscow Heritage and the Moscow Government.

That doesn't surprise Anna Bronovitskaya of the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society. She says there's quite a bit of red tape involving the preservation laws. She adds that most people in charge don't even know how to enforce them.

She says certain laws don't work, they exist on paper but they are just not being followed, and very often it's the ignorance of the decision makers.

And often, it's about money, says David Sarkisiyan. He's head of Moscow's Architecture museum.

He says the cost of space in the center of the city is immense and that money decides it all. He says, as Karl Marx used to say, capitalism is ready to commit any crime on earth for 300 percent of income. He says that money is involved and destroys it all.

But even when the government decides that it is going to preserve historic property, it doesn't do it right, according to Anna Bronovitskaya. She says repair work on the Bolshoi Theater has been going on for years, and some of it nearly destroyed the foundation, causing cracks and water damage.

She says the thing is that Bolshoi repairs are done incredibly chaotically. And that the government doesn't seem to follow any plan. She says they don't even discuss what they are doing and they don't listen to each other.

Despite what many see as an uphill battle against the Russian government, David Sarkisiyan, head of Moscow's Architecture Museum, says there is progress being made towards drawing awareness, at least to more of the general public. He points to an art exhibit that was created after three historical buildings were torn down within one year in Moscow.

He says the exhibition consisted of three graves with the old buildings' photos, their names, dates of birth and death. He says visitors would stop, cry and have a drink just as if they were at a real cemetery.

Change continues to occur all over Moscow. Recently, eviction notices went out for an historical building being torn down to make way for a five-star hotel. The building has been used to house most of the actors and dancers for the Bolshoi Theater. The government says it will try to preserve part of the building.

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