“This Demolition Is Illegal”/“Petersburg Is Being Murdered Here”
Yesterday (February 23) was celebrated as Defender of the Fatherland Day in Russia. Once upon a time not so long ago, February 23 was known as Red Army and Fleet Day. Now, apparently as a counterbalance to “International Women’s Day” (March 8), a holiday utterly emptied of its original radical/progressive/feminist content by the forces of consumerism and patriarchal reaction in Russia, February 23rd has become a kind of one-size-fits-all “men’s day.” The homely and sexual virtues of women are thus celebrated on March 8, while on February 23 the allegedly warrior-like traits of men are honored.
The reality of gender roles is, of course, more complicated. As is the question of what “defending the fatherland” means today. We would argue that this defense now entails work on very different fronts, such as the struggle against neofascism, rampant police abuse and violence, and lawless, union-busting employers. A no less important front in Russia today is the fight for the right to the city, whether this means battling to save a humble albeit leafy courtyard in Petersburg’s new estates from the developers’ chainsaws and bulldozers, trying to stop the erection of a 400-meter-high skyscraper that would rape the city’s sublime skyline forever or, as you’ll read about below, keeping watch over historic landmarks that stand in the way of mindless redevelopment. This particular struggle is fought by men and women, the old and the young, communists, anarchists, and liberals alike.
Finally, we should stress that the “little” motherland/fatherland at issue here (Saint Petersburg) is the common property of all humanity (as our comrades from DSPA point out, below): the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re unhappy with what the combined forces of stupidity, greed, and bureaucratic corruption are doing to our common property, please write to UNESCO. Please write to us (at the e-mail address in the sidebar) if you need more information about the destruction of Saint Petersburg.
Vigil Set Up To Stop Demolition Of Building
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1550 (11), Wednesday, February 24, 2010
By Sergey Chernov
A round-the-clock vigil has been established in central St. Petersburg by concerned locals attempting to prevent the demolition of a historic building.
Defenders of St. Petersburg’s cultural heritage set up camp near the Rogov House on the corner of Zagorodny Prospekt and Shcherbakov Pereulok as attempts to demolish the building continued during the weekend and into this week.
Sergey Chernov / The St. Petersburg Times
The Rogov House pictured on Monday, following demolition work that began over the weekend.
At every attempt by workers to start demolition, which the protesters describe as “illegal,” the activists called the police, who repeatedly came and stopped the work because the workers had no demolition permit.
But the workers, equipped with a hydraulic excavator labeled “Building Demolition Association,” managed to almost completely destroy the top floor of the three-story historic building in one sweep on Saturday and two sweeps on Monday.
On Saturday, two cars parked on Shcherbakov Pereulok were reported to have been damaged by falling stones due to the haste with which the work was carried out. After the third sweep on Monday, the workers present at the site were detained by the police, who ordered them to write explanatory statements.
The protesters say that Prestizh, which bought the right to develop the site from the city, deliberately started demolition work at the beginning of the long holiday weekend in order to complete demolition unhindered before Wednesday, when a court hearing about the legality of stripping the the Rogov House of its cultural heritage status is scheduled.
Prestizh is planning to build a seven-story business center with underground parking on the site.
The Rogov House, named after the merchant who built it in the late 18th to early 19th century, is the oldest building on Vladimirskaya Ploshchad. Located next to the Delvig House, it is valued as a relic of Pushkin-era St. Petersburg.
“The exact year of construction is unknown, which is often the case with buildings from that era,” Alexander Kononov, deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Association for the Protection of Monuments (VOOPIK,) said by phone on Tuesday.
“It was built between 1798 and 1808, because on the 1798 map of St. Petersburg this building isn’t yet featured, but it is already on the 1808 map of St. Petersburg — with the same dimensions and configuration as it has now.”
According to Kononov, the building is the oldest in the Vladimirskaya Ploshchad ensemble — older than the Delvig House, which was built from 1811 to 1813 — and, unlike the Delvig House, it has never undergone major renovation or reconstruction work.
“It has all the authentic elements of construction and decor inside and out — the staircase and everything — including large wooden cross-beams,” he said.
“It is precisely as it was built, except for minor changes on the first floor due to doorways having been moved.”
The Rogov House has been under threat since the 1980s, when it was damaged during the construction of Dostoyevskaya metro station. Kononov insists that the building could have been restored, but City Hall’s heritage committee stripped it off its heritage status in November last year.
According to Kononov, organizations such as Lenmetrogiprotrans (Leningrad Metropolitan State Institute for Transportation Design and Planning) and Giprostroimost (Institute for Bridge Design and Construction) said in writing that they were ready to design projects for the repair and preservation of the building, including strengthening weight-bearing structures and the foundations.
“Unfortunately, Prestizh, which currently manages the site, doesn’t want to get in touch with the organizations that are ready to preserve the building — quite the opposite, they look for experts who will say that it is impossible to preserve the building and that it is in a dangerous state of repair,” Kononov said.
Prestizh was not available for comment on Tuesday.
According to the preservationist organization Living City, more than 100 historic buildings have been destroyed in the center, including six on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, since Governor Valentina Matviyenko took office in 2003. [You can see more of Sergey Chernov’s photos of the Rogov House demolition here.]
Here Alexander Kononov talks to Petersburg Channel 100 about the battle over the Rogov House. Even if you don’t understand Russian, it’s worth a look for the visuals at the end of the segment, when the Channel 100 anchor reads off a short list of the more than one hundred historic buildings demolished during the reign of Valentina Matviyenko.
On the morning of February 23, activists from the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA) hung the following banner on the threatened Rogov House:
The text on the banner (“Citizens! Under Matviyenko’s Administration, This Side of the Street Is the Most Dangerous”) refers to the famous warnings stenciled on buildings during the Siege of Leningrad: “Сitizens! During bombardment this side of the street is the most dangerous.” Beginning in the early sixties, these stencils were restored on several buildings in the city, including the most well-known example, on the building at Nevsky Prospekt, 14.
DSPA issued the following communiqué in connection with this action:
By destroying Petersburg’s historic built environment and demolishing old buildings, the authorities violate the people’s right to aesthetic pleasure, which is no less meaningful than other civil and political rights.
The days when hi-tech buildings served as futuristic manifestos have long since passed; today’s glass boxes are built by dull and greedy bourgeois. They find it more profitable to demolish a historic building and erect a new one in its place: investing money in the restoration of an old building is too expensive. They thus infringe on the cultural property of all humanity.
A typical example of this infringement is the case of the Rogov House (Zagorodny Prospekt 3/17), an officially listed architectural landmark. Strictly speaking, little has survived of this neoclassical building complex, erected in the late eighteenth century: only the street-side wing remains; the rest of the building was barbarically destroyed during construction of the Dostoevskaya metro station in 1987. Preservationists successfully defended this part of the building, but in the twenty-some years that followed, the authorities dreamt not of restoring it to a condition befitting its landmark status, but of destroying it completely. Despite the fact that, in 2009, independent experts showed that it was still quite possible to restore the building, attempts to force through a demolition in order to build yet another commercial building on the site resumed with renewed vigor late last year.
During the six or so years of Governor Matviyenko’s administration, Petersburg itself has “shrunk“ considerably: the preservation zone in the central districts has been reduced by a factor of 4.5; the city has rid itself of 144 architectural landmarks and other historic buildings, as well as several dozen squares and green spaces; and the city’s central plazas — Sennaya, Kazanskaya, Vladimirskaya, and St. Isaac’s — have been irreparably disfigured.
We realize, however, that it is not so much Matviyenko herself who is personally to blame for all this, as it is the economic system of capitalism. The governor is merely a small fry in the big pond of the Market and a servant of High Profits. Only greed and the desire for profit are capable of demolishing works of art and erecting lackluster business centers. Big money is the only cause of all the horrible things that are happening to our city.
Governors come and governors go, but their policies remain the same. And during each of their reigns, both sides of every street remain the most dangerous.
There is only one solution — resistance!
Today, the Rogov House got a reprieve when a Petersburg district court declared a temporary halt to an earlier decision (on February 2) by the city’s heritage preservation committee (the now-notorious KGIOP, whose mission in recent years has been to rubber-stamp whatever atrocities the hearts of developers desire) to strip the building of its protected status. All the details of the suit, filed on behalf of the house by representatives of VOOPIK, can be found here (in Russian). The next court hearing of the case will take place on March 9. Activists, however, have promised to continue their vigil at the house.
“The Rogov House: Don’t Demolish It, Restore It!”