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The Guardian (UK)
January 20, 2003
The devil and Yuri Luzhkov
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

It is one of the intelligentsia's quiet prides, a leafy enclave embracing a tranquil pond which still looks today much as it did in the 20s when Mikhail Bulgakov wrote his satirical masterpiece Master and Margarita.

Patriarch's Pond is the place in the novel where the Devil appeared to wreak havoc in Stalin's Moscow. It remains popular with the arts elite but the devil about to wreak havoc with the Russian heritage is not Bulgakov's Dr Woland but Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov.

To the disbelief and despair of a band of conservationists and architects, he wants to "adorn" it with outsize sculptures illustrating the novel: a statue of Jesus mockingly walking across the water, a primus stove, a park bench.

The artist's drawings have all the subtlety of that other machine the mayor is often associated with: the bulldozer.

Trees will be uprooted for a statue of Bulgakov on the huge park bench. In front of him 12 pillars will seem to hold the figure of Christ centimetres above the water. Across the pond will sit the stove, the book's symbol of evil spirits.

It will cost more than 3m, a lot for a city which can barely afford to keep its homeless from freezing to death in winter. But the damage to the religious and cultural heritage will be far greater, its opponents argue. Today they begin a campaign to hamper the plan to have it ready by May.

Alexei Klimenko, a renowned architectural critic, said: "the Patriarch's Pond is one of the symbols of Moscow, a quiet enclave where thousands of Muscovites come to relax. How can one put this monstrous stove there?"

This and other projects, including seven more of the identical "Stalin skyscrapers" that tower over Moscow, exemplified the "mania of the Moscow authorities to make something grandiose", he said.

The church is furious about the proximity of Christ and Bulgakov's statues.

Father Mikhail Dudko, secretary of the Russian Orthodox church commission on church and society, said: "A person reading Bulgakov's novel can see the Gospel, but not from Matthew, or John's [perspective], but through the eyes of Dr Woland - the author's incarnation of the devil."

The plan to depict scenes from the lives of the novel's evil spirits on the inside walls of the primus stove "can be seen as making advances towards evil spirits".

"I don't think this is conscious satanism on the part of those working on the monument," he added.

"More likely this is thoughtlessness or a play on words and meanings typical of modern art. But the play has gone too far. Any advances to the evil spirits often end very badly, both for the spectators, but above all, for the creators. It would be proper to warn them off this."

Patriarch's Pond gained spiritual significance in the late 16th century when the then head of the church, Patriach Iov, built three ponds there. They were intended to dry out the area, then known as Goat's Swamp and considered the home of evil spirits.

When Iov was canonised his creation took on a greater significance. In the 19th century intellectuals flocked there.

The old buildings are threatened with demolition for blocks of flats, an underground car park, and a fish-filled fountain to replace the pond.

The new plan, by the general architect of Moscow, Alexander Kuzmin, has provoked a petition with 1,000 signatures.

Natalya Tchernyetsova, who lives locally, said: "We tried to hold a protest but the police came immediately to remove us. We have little hope of winning in a Moscow court, as they are all under the administration's pressure and control.

"They are trying to convince us that this will improve the environment, but they have just cut down a lime tree that was over 100 years old."

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