Excluded City Activists Create Splinter Group
Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)
Opposition parties and preservationists who do not wish to cooperate with the authorities have formed an independent coalition to campaign against the destruction of historic St. Petersburg, they announced at a news conference Monday.
Called Gradozashchita (City Defense), the coalition includes members of The Other Russia, the Party of People’s Freedom (Parnas) and ROT-Front, as well as activists from Okhtinskaya Duga, a group formed to campaign against Gazprom’s plans to build a skyscraper on the Okhta cape, and ERA (Ecology of Ordinary Architecture).
None of the three parties have been registered by the authorities, with various official reasons having been given.
According to the coalition’s manifesto, Gradozashchita will oppose attempts to destroy historic St. Petersburg or evict residents from old buildings as part of so-called “renovation programs,” as well as infill construction, the destruction of gardens, and other cases of lawlessness on the part of the authorities and big business against the city and its residents.
The activists will use the “broadest range of means,” from campaigns of direct action and protests to legal action.
According to The Other Russia’s local leader Andrei Dmitriyev, his party was rejected for inclusion in the Coalition for the Preservation of St. Petersburg that was formed shortly before the rally for the preservation of St. Petersburg in autumn 2009 by the Yabloko Democratic Party, preservationist group Living City and several other organizations – despite its contribution to the struggle against the destruction of St. Petersburg.
“They’re only interested in publicity,” Yabloko’s local chair Maxim Reznik told The St. Petersburg Times at that time.
Okhtinskaya Duga’s Yelena Malysheva and ROT-Front’s Tamara Vedernikova were expelled from the coalition when they protested against the decision.
“As non-systematic opposition, we were perhaps undesirable in that coalition, not corresponding to the political goals of Yabloko or something else,” Dmitriyev said Monday.
He said that before the split, all the preservationists and political opposition acted together, describing the cancelation of the plans to build the Gazprom skyscraper on the Okhta cape as “our common victory,” but criticized his opponents in the preservationist movement for becoming too close to City Hall.
“We see that they have not only entered into a dialogue with City Hall — there’s nothing wrong with dialogue with the authorities – they are allowing themselves to be led on a leash by the city administration,” Dmitriyev said, pointing to the fact that deputy governors spoke at a preservationist rally earlier this year.
“To defend the city and invite its main destructors to speak at the rally is a little ridiculous,” he said.
However, Dmitriyev said that the newly-formed coalition is not intended to rival established preservationists.
“There are two niches, two ways, so we’ll cooperate as much as possible, but we believe that appeasing the authorities is not right,” he said.
Late last year, a group of preservationists including film director Alexander Sokurov and Yabloko’s Reznik started to hold monthly meetings with then governor Valentina Matviyenko.
The move came as a surprise, as preservationists had previously invariably called for the dismissal of Matviyenko, holding her responsible for the demolition of heritage buildings and emergence of new buildings they saw as out of place in the UNESCO-protected city center.