Moscow Activists Fight to Save
Historic Arkhangelskoye

The estate of Arkangelskoye dates back to the first half of the 19th century when it was purchased by Nikolai Yusupov, a Russian prince, statesman and diplomat.

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Preservationists fear that Moscow’s best-known historical estate, Arkhangelskoye, may be slated to become a luxury development, as they struggle to win a tangle of law suits against three companies linked to businessmen Viktor Vekselberg – all vying for some 600 hectares of land around the estate.

Arkhangelskoye’s troubles started in 2005, when developers and officials from the Krasnogorsk district administration started trying to take over land for construction purposes. Over the next few years, housing developments sprouted and sprawled, threatening the ensemble of the reserve.

Now, power lines and fences are already spoiling the view, and trees are being randomly cut down.

“A whole generation has always lived with the idea of inviolacy of Mikhailovskoye, Abramtsevo, Borodino, and, of course, Arkhangelskoye. It is a unique ensemble of architecture and nature created by human genius,” said Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, president of Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences, an agency which twice issued recommendations to stop taking land from the museum for private development purposes.

The estate dates back to the first half of the 19th century when it was purchased by Nikolai Yusupov, a Russian prince, statesman and diplomat.

He was the first to finish building the palace, gentrifying the vast territory with antique statues, parterre and parks. The estate was a favorite spot for Russia’s elite, frequently visited by poet Alexander Pushkin, composer Igor Stravinsky, and even Russian Emperors.

After the 1917 Revolution the estate was turned into a museum, with a sanatorium built in the 1930s on the bank of the Moscow River.

But starting in early 2000, local authorities took advantage of legislative gaps and rented out the land to developers eager to build something.

“It turned out that the parks are registered in the legislation as forestry fund lands and are subject to forestry legislation,” said Oleg Matveev, co-chairman of Arkhangelskoye’s board of trustees. According to the rental agreement, “The tenant is obliged to perform construction, reconstruction, road maintenance for fire-fighting purposes, landing fields for airplanes, helicopters, building firebreaks,” Matveev continued.

Three Ltds emerged: Oblstroiuniversal, Park Arkhangelskoye, and Erlikom Group. All three, Matveyev said at a recent press conference, are linked to businessman Viktor Vekselberg – though there is no official confirmation of this.

“The struggle is between those who fight for the preservation of cultural heritage and those who always parasitize… picking the best pieces from the table,” Kudryavtsev said. The fighters for cultural heritage are, first of all, All-Russian Society for Historic Preservation and Cultural Organization (VOOPIK).

The organization has won twelve court cases so far invalidating some of the rental agreements. But the fact that the activists don’t always know who to sue is complicating matters.

“Of course, they have [taken the land] not to restore the park or bring it in order, but to build there, and certainly the whole territory adjusted and the landscape park deprived of its conservation status serves their interest,” VOOPIK deputy chairman Evgeny Sosedov said.

As it is, the museum can’t even get rights for the land under historical Gonzaga Theatre which is now separated from the ensemble by Ilyinskoye Shosse. The legitimacy of the rental agreements for the groves around the theatre is now being disputed in court, with the next hearing scheduled for June 24.

While the court is treating the matter as a mere formality, according to Matveev, appeals to the Prosecutor General’s office are being ignored. And the Ministry of Culture doesn’t show much initiative either. “They are in the end of this locomotive,” said Galina Malanicheva, VOOPIK chairman a member of the Public Chamber and Presidential Committee for Art and Culture. “When something starts seething they would react. But it would be good if the policy of the Ministry of Culture was more effective and more focused on cultural heritage preservation.”

Source & Copyright: The Moscow News
22 June, 2011