|Preservationists Take Fight to the Wider World – The Moscow Times|
On a small piece of paper at the foot of the developer's hoardings that now surround the building site someone had written, "Luzhkov, ready yourself! This is just the beginning!"
Criticism of Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the city government's attitude toward the capital's architectural heritage has been growing in recent months.
Just a few hours earlier, in the nearby Shchusev Architecture Museum, another protest was taking place, but this time organized by by the expat community.
There, a group of foreign journalists living in Moscow -- The Times of London's Moscow correspondent Clementine Cecil, freelance journalist Guy Archer and The Moscow Times' Kevin O'Flynn -- launched the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society to bring the destruction of Moscow's historical buildings to the attention of a wider audience.
Preservation experts estimate that already more than 400 buildings from the 17th century onward have been razed in Moscow since Luzhkov became mayor in the early 1990s, including 60 buildings that were listed as pamyatniki and were supposed to be protected from destruction by law.
Activists say that profits available to construction and real estate companies have fueled the corruption of City Hall bureaucrats, causing the city to lose more historical buildings than at anytime since the 1930s, when much of pre-Revolution Moscow was torn down on Josef Stalin's orders.
MAPS will work with preservationists, architects and historians to try to safeguard the city from any further destruction of its history.
"We are trying to convince the city government that you don't always need to demolish," Cecil said.
"We have no money," Archer added. "We are a nonprofit organization, trying to create greater concern for this problem."
A letter signed by Lubava Moreva, UNESCO's cultural programs specialist, made public at the news conference, offered its support to the new society.
"The importance and timeliness of this initiative to preserve the beautiful and unique look of Moscow is undisputable," Moreva wrote. The head of UNESCO's Moscow office, Philippe Queau, also pledged his support for the cause of cultural heritage preservation, which "lies at the center of UNESCO's attention."
The World Monuments Fund also submitted a letter of support to MAPS.
The key role of the new organization will be to provide information for the Russian and international press from a wide variety of sources, including the latest news about buildings in peril.
David Sarkisyan, head of the Shchusev Museum, said, "Bringing the discussion into an international arena is our only hope."
Sarkisyan wants to prevent repetitions of "makeovers" like that carried out on the Stary Arbat. He said that Stary Arbat, a "fine example of old Moscow architecture," was changed forever, when novodel -- replicas of the original buildings -- were built there, dwarfing the street's authentic historical landmarks like the Praga Hotel.
"What's going on now [with historical buildings] I consider a national tragedy, a cultural catastrophe," said Alexei Klimenko, a preservation campaigner since the 1970s and a member of the city's architectural advisory council. "We need some means of public control over bureaucrats, otherwise they'll continue to make decisions only in their own interests."
Deputy Mayor Yury Roslyak was invited to attend the news conference but sent his apologies. City Hall has also been unavailable for comment on the society's formation.
MAPS' first news conference focused on the fate of the Manezh, the 19th-century neoclassical landmark badly damaged by fire in March.
Klimenko voiced his concerns that the Manezh did not burn down by accident, but fell victim to arson, possibly instigated by parties interested in turning the landmark into an underground parking garage.
"Judging by the way the fire spread, it couldn't have accidentally ignited in the attic," Klimenko said, adding that he saw empty gasoline canisters when he arrived to inspect the scene of the Manezh fire.
He also said that questionable restoration work, more suitable for laying the groundwork for a parking garage than restoring the building's original foundation, is now being carried out at Manezh.
In addition to discussing the irrevocable damage architectural destruction causes to Moscow's cultural heritage, the accompanying financial loss was also mentioned.
"If you put preservation in terms of economics rather than culture, everyone knows that any copy is worth only a fraction of the original," said Natalya Dushkina, granddaughter of renowned architect Alexei Dushkin and herself a professor of architecture.
While MAPS' launch united people over the need to preserve the cultural heritage of Moscow by saving its historical buildings, opinions were divided over how you decide what is classified as a cultural gem and when a building is so decrepit the only option is demolition.
Writer Tatyana Tolstaya said that the 1960s buildings lining the Novy Arbat were not worth protecting as they were ugly, "cloned block buildings."
Others argued that preservationists should overcome such subjectivity once and for all by deciding the cutoff line for what constituted architectural heritage and then work toward achieving a moratorium on work on all buildings that fell into the category.
But supporters gathered at the MAPS conference were willing to put their differences of opinion aside, fearing that the debate over the historical value of various architectural movements would become irrelevant if action to preserve Moscow's landmarks is not taken now.
Andrei Batalov, an art historian and a preservation supporter, said that much had changed since Russians mobilized to protect the city's beloved cathedral on Ulitsa Pokrovka, when Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to set it on fire.
"Now it has fallen to foreigners to save what we can't save ourselves," Batalov said.
By Maria Levitov