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The Sunday Times (UK)
January 26, 2003
Mansion builder spreads anger on Tolstoy estate
Mark Franchetti, Moscow

SINCE the death of Leo Tolstoy in 1910, Yasnaya Polyana, the estate where
he was born and produced some of his greatest works, has been left almost
untouched right down to the chair on which he sat to write War and Peace
and a bearskin coat that he bought with the royalties from Anna Karenina.

However, the genteel 19th-century world of the sprawling property, 120
miles south of Moscow, is under threat from the brash new Russia.

To the fury of the writers descendants, a wealthy businessman has taken
over a plot on the edge of Yasnaya Polyana and begun to build a mansion
overlooking the lake where Tolstoy used to take his walks.

Count Vladimir Tolstoy, the writers great-great-grandson and the estates
curator, is so outraged that he is suing the architect. The businessman
himself has yet to be identified.

The mansion at the centre of the row is being built on the site of a pretty
single-storey wooden house given by Tolstoy to one of his servants. It is
only a few yards from the entrance of the Yasnaya Polyana museum and is in
a protected area where all new building is strictly prohibited.

Last summer descendants of the people who lived in the wooden house more
than a century ago sold it to the businessman. Within weeks building had
begun to transform it into a large red-brick mansion several storeys high.

This is a protected area, said Vladimir Tolstoy, whose two daughters live
in Britain. This is a conflict between the old and the new Russia, between
two different cultures.

This guy has no permission to build on this land. Its completely illegal.
He must be stopped, otherwise there will be a flood of rich businessmen
seeking to buy and build because they think its fashionable to be
Tolstoys neighbour. Thats why I am suing.

Although the first storey has already been built, Vladimir Tolstoy has
managed to put a temporary halt to the work, pending a court hearing next
month. The culture ministry has also called for a block on construction.

Tolstoy, who inherited the estate in 1847 at the age of 19, lived there
with his wife Sofia and their 13 children, five of whom died young. He
suffered from poor eyesight and had the legs of his chair cut so that he
could peer more closely at the handwriting on his desk.

Tolstoy fished, hunted, skated and organised picnics and croquet matches in
the grounds of Yasnaya Polyana until the last years of his life, when he
spent most of his time alone.

A champion of peasants rights who was excommunicated by the Russian
Orthodox church, he is buried on the estate in an unmarked grave.

It was in the lake overlooked by the new mansion that Tolstoys wife tried
to drown herself in despair over their difficult relationship.

Last summer Yasnaya Polyana was the setting for the largest reunion of
Tolstoys descendants. Nearly 100 relatives from six countries gathered to
mark the anniversary of the publication of the writers first novel.

The event, which included the re-enactment of battle scenes from War and
Peace, was organised by Vladimir Tolstoy, who also has plans to attract
more tourists to the estate.

The businessman did not comprehend the spirit of a man like Tolstoy, the
count said. I have spoken with this man but he just doesnt understand
what he has done wrong.

He even claims sincerely to love Yasnaya Polyana and told me that he wants
to help the museum.

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