Residents Protest Demolitions

Residents Protest Demolitions

Published: September 26, 2012 (Issue # 1728)


Protesters rally in the city last week.

Hundreds of local residents gathered to protest ongoing demolition in St. Petersburg last week, but the main bone of contention has shifted from opposition to the Gazprom skyscraper — which is no longer planned to be built in the historical Okhta district — to the historical Rogov House, which was abruptly and swiftly demolished on Aug. 26.

City Hall declined to authorize a march, but agreed to a stationary rally, which drew 300 to 500, some holding posters reading “Don’t Ruin the City” and “Stop Destroying History.”

Protesters demanded that developers who break preservation laws should face criminal charges or have their licenses revoked, rather than being punished with token fines as they are currently.

“In my view, there should be legislative initiatives that ensure that so-called investors, who are in reality vandals and gangsters, should not simply be fined,” said Maxim Reznik, a deputy from the Yabloko Party in the city’s Legislative Assembly.

“The penalty for breaking laws governing cultural and historical heritage should be revoking of the license and a ban on further work in the construction business,” he said.

Former governor Valentina Matviyenko’s popularity plunged after more than 100 historical buildings were demolished in the city center during her tenure to give space to projects such as the Stockmann store on Nevsky Prospekt.

Some preservationists had pinned their hopes on the new governor Georgy Poltavchenko, who made a statement about the preservation of the historic center soon after taking office in August last year, but they have grown disappointed as more buildings were demolished.

One poster depicted six buildings or sets of buildings built in the 19th and early 20th centuries that were demolished earlier this year.

Reznik used his speech at the rally to demand the return of gubernatorial elections, which were abolished by President Vladimir Putin in 2005.

“Either you are not in charge of anything, in which case, why do we need such a governor, or you know everything and are simply pretending that you are not in charge of anything,” he said.

Alexei Kovalyov, a deputy for the Just Russia party in the Legislative Assembly, said that the developer should be ordered to rebuild the Rogov House, of which a large portion was demolished years ago, in full.

“One day we will pull down the giant building behind the Delvig House [Regent Hall], and everything will be OK,” Kovalyov said.

“Let’s not allow a similar construction where the [Rogov] House used to be.”

Preservationists fought to save the Rogov House, which was twice removed from the city heritage register, for years until it was demolished on Aug. 26.

The building’s owner, Vektor, chose a Sunday to carry out the job without drawing much attention. Last week, the company was fined 500,000 rubles ($16,000) for demolishing it without a permit, but has appealed.

The Rogov House, named after the merchant who built it in the Classical style between 1798 and 1808, was the oldest building on Vladimirskaya Ploshchad. Located next to the Delvig House, it was valued as a relic of Pushkin-era St. Petersburg.

The building — located at 3 Zagorodny Prospekt — had been under threat since the 1980s, when it was damaged during the construction of Dostoyevskaya metro station. An attempt to demolish the building in February 2010 was stopped by activists.

At the rally, preservationists announced the launch of an emergency service of text messages to be sent to subscribers in the event of future sudden demolitions, so that volunteers could come and try to prevent them.

Rallies for the preservation of St. Petersburg have been held every autumn since 2007 and originally focused on opposing plans to build a skyscraper for Gazprom Neft in the historic Okhta district. The Okhta Center skyscraper plan was scrapped in December 2010.

After the first preservation rally drew more than 5,000 people and turned political — anti-Kremlin sentiment dominated at it — City Hall stopped authorizing the marches, agreeing only to stationary rallies in less busy locations.

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