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Angry Architects Lobby Putin

Kevin O'Flynn, Themoscowtimes.Com

Major figures in the architectural world have written to President Vladimir Putin to plead with him to intervene to stop the destruction of Moscow's historical heritage.

In an angry letter, drafted at a round table earlier this month at the Shchusev Architecture Museum, the Moscow city government has been attacked for what activists say is its complicity in a construction boom that has defaced the city's architectural heritage.

"Commercial profit cannot excuse the systematic destruction of our own history, culture and national identity. The construction politics in Moscow is criminal, anti-social, anti-cultural and anti-state, and deprives future generations of Russian citizens of historical monuments," says the letter, which is currently posted on the Shchusev Museum web site,

The letter has been signed by dozens of cultural figures, including: Boris Akunin, the detective story writer; writer Tatyana Tolstaya; actor Sergei Makovetsky; poet Timur Kibirov; musician Alexander Sklyar; poet Sergei Gandlevsky and designer Artemy Lebedev.

One concerned architect, Ilya Utkin, said in a written contribution to the round table: "In the 10 years of the construction boom, a whole stratum of 18th- to 19th-century architecture has been destroyed - Russian Constructivism of the 1930s has practically been destroyed. Now works of Stalinist classicism, done by such masters as Alexei Shchusev, Ivan Zheltovsky and Alexei Dushkin are disappearing before our eyes."

David Sarkisyan, the head of the Shchusev Museum, speaking at the round table, compared Moscow to a city that had just been bombed, with gaping holes where once favorite buildings had stood.

And the letter says: "The region of Ostozhenka has disappeared, the face of the Moscow embankments has been ruined - Arbat, Polyanka and other historical streets have been changed radically."

The letter also warned that Moscow has begun a trend that is spreading to other Russian cities.

Alexei Komech, the head of Moscow's Art History Institute, and Natalya Dushkina, the granddaughter of the architect and a professor of architecture, said that many more architectural treasures could soon be ruined or disappear unless something is done.

Experts said that although preservation laws are in place, the official preservation organizations, which are supposed to protect the city's heritage, are part of the city government itself rather than being independent bodies. Hence, they are easily pressured internally.

Several people in the city's hierarchy are themselves involved in the construction industry, or have close links. Mayor Yury Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, is the owner of Inteko, one of the biggest players in the construction market.

Corruption is also an endemic problem, said Alexei Klimenko, a former restorer and preservation activist.

Activists are hoping to create an independent organization that can lobby and pressure the government about Moscow's threatened architectural heritage.

The letter calls for a comprehensive program to be set up to save and preserve architectural monuments at all levels of the government, and for the control of architecture and construction to be transferred to the federal government.

"A cultural catastrophe is imminent that neither state nor society should accept," the letter says.

As well as Putin, the letter was addressed to the government, the State Duma, the culture minister, the Russian Architects' Union, and City Hall's Culture and Architecture and City Construction Committees.

There has been no official response from any of the recipients.

City Hall did not want to comment directly on the letter, but referred to an appearance on Moscow television station TVTs last Friday by Alexander Kuzmin, the city's chief architect, which was prompted by the architects' letter.

Kuzmin was asked whether it should be up to City Hall or the people to determine the future of the city's monuments.

"I think neither," he said. "It should be up to specialists. Therefore I think that the existing councils at the Culture Ministry and at the department of monument protection, comprising specialists from both the administration and the public, are best."

He was also asked whether the March election-night Manezh fire could have been arson for commercial gain, as some activists allege.

"I really don't see investors' interest here," Kuzmin said. "The Manezh fire did not make it any easier for them, since they were ready to undertake reconstruction that had already been approved. But now they need to approve all the project documentation all over again, and it will cost them at least the same amount of money."

Several realtors when contacted declined to comment on the content of the architects' letter.

Staff Writer Denis Maternovsky contributed to this report.

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