Roland Oliphant, “Facing the Bulldozer” (Russia Profile):
Activists have dug themselves in at a building site in central Moscow to stop developers from throwing up a housing and office complex next door to an ancient Church in one of Moscow’s oldest and most picturesque districts. The situation deteriorated into open confrontation on Sunday night, when developers sent security guards in to clear the site and begin work. They were stopped by activists, including a State Duma deputy.
The quarrel revolves around plans to build what the developers call a “multifunctional complex” – a mixture of housing and office space dubbed “Five Capitals” – next to the 17th century Church of the Resurrection in [Kadashi], a historical area of central Moscow that is also home to the Tretyakov Gallery. No one involved seems to be able to remember exactly when the drama began; the consensus is that it has been going on “for a few years.” Banners posted outside the building site by the developers give the start date of construction only as 2009.
Critics of the plan, including State Duma deputies, the parish church and the combative architectural heritage group Arkhnadzor, objected not only that the planned buildings change the character of the area, but that they necessitate the destruction of a number of historic buildings.
The moratorium only lasted five days, until the evening of June 7, when private security guards arrived to clear away protestors and secure the entrance to the site. A confrontation ensued in which the private security guards tried to prevent them from picketing the building site, reportedly kicking and punching Just Russia State Duma Deputy Valery Gartung when he tried to challenge them.
The standoff endured all night, with some colorful incidents. Another Just Russia deputy, Anton Belyakov, arrived and told the traffic police to move the demolition vehicles lurking in a nearby street because they were blocking the traffic. Then at two a.m. the chief of the central administrative district’s department of the interior showed up saying that he was there to “prevent a massacre,” Gazeta.ru reported. At eight a.m. workers, unable to get their heavy vehicles through the picket line, started work with hand-help pneumatic drills on demolishing another building – a 19th century sausage factory, according to the activists. By early afternoon the street outside the site was swarming with reporters and television crews, and Artyom Khromov, an Arkhandzhor organizer, emerged from talks with the developers to announce a 48-hour truce.
What happens after the next 48 hours is anyone’s guess. Khromov said the two day gap would give them time to draft a concrete agreement, but Algeev, another organizer, declined to try predicting the future. “I’m not ready to second guess what the outcome will be,” he said. But the protestors may have won something: Gromov – the same deputy head of the Heritage Committee who had earlier said the buildings being destroyed were unimportant – later announced that the entire contraction project would occur “not only in the presence of archaeologists, but under their direct control.”
Either way, the headlines that the affair has been making and the willingness of the city authorities to broker a compromise, is good news, said Algeev. “This is the first big protest by citizens in defense of their heritage. More people are beginning to care about it, so now there is some hope that the situation in Moscow for historic building is going to improve. But that’s only a hope.”