Elite housing jeopardizes historic monuments in Russia

Mushrooming construction of elite countryside cottages in Russia jeopardizes cultural and historic heritage and forced the culture ministry to ask law enforcers for help.
Housing construction close to mansions, museums and monasteries hides magnificent historic buildings. However local authorities and developers use legislative loopholes in allocating expensive land plots and even openly violate the rules.
Russian Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev requested Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and Tula regional governor to stop planned construction on the territories belonging to cultural heritage objects, including Yasnaya Polyana memorial estate of the author of War and Peace, great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
The minister said in a report placed on the website of the ministry he is “concerned by the construction on land plots within the territory of open-air museums, memorial estates, and cultural heritage objects.”
Avdeyev is specifically concerned by the developments around Yasnaya Polyana as the local administration approved the allocation of land plots for elite housing construction on protected territories of the memorial estate.
Yasnaya Polyana Director Vladimir Tolstoy, a grand-grand grandson of Leo Tolstoy, said three land plots on the protected territory had been auctioned and leased to various investors and construction companies.
“So far nothing horrible happened,” Tolstoy said but warned it is necessary to prevent a situation when Krasnaya Polyana will file a lawsuit and demand to stop the construction or pull down the erected houses.
The memorial estate was founded in 1921 in Yasnaya Polayna, the native place of Leo Tolstoy where he lived most of his life.
At present memorial landscapes of the estate (parks, ponds, and trees planted by Tolstoy), as well as buildings erected in late XVIII – early XIX centuries are kept in the original historic state. In 2008 the museum won a European Union grant within the program of Support to Cultural Cooperation Initiatives to implement The Light that Shines in the Darkness project jointly with the German Schloss Neuhardenberg GmBH Fund. The Museum-estate also twice won A Changing Museum in a Changing World contest in 2005 and 2008.
There were numerous attempts to build elite cottages on the protected territory of the museum. In March 2008 a resident of Tula region bough a land plot with a part of a residential house built before the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Without any official approval the building and several other erections were pulled down and new construction launched.
Yasnaya Polyana is only one of historic places jeopardized by expanding housing construction. The sale of land plots belonging to the Borodino Field open-air museum devoted to the wars of 1812 against Napoleon and of 1941-1945 against Hitler has been investigated for half a year. The open-air museum of 110 square kilometers has over 200 monuments.
The NEWS.ru portal also reported plans to build cottages on the territory of Arkhangelskoe museum-estate near Moscow.
The conflict in Novgorod region related to housing construction close to Yuryev Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, seems to have been resolved due to public effort. The construction area could include the so-called “field of truth” where one of the founders of the Russian state, Grand Prince of Rus Yaroslav, convened a popular assembly that called him Yaroslav the Wise. Regional Governor Sergei Mitin imposed a moratorium on any construction within the range of 2.5 kilometers around the monastery.
“Adhering to the demands of scientists and realizing the place is of historic, landscape and archaeological significance I have decided to have all works in the area stopped. The protection zone should be specified as soon as possible and if it covers the mentioned place all construction will be ceased there for good,” Mitin said.
In June the UNESCO World Heritage Committee held a regular session in Paris. Five of its decisions related to Russian cultural heritage objects. The historic center of the city of Yaroslavl caused most concern due to numerous violations of the World Heritage Convention. An international mission was dispatched to Yaroslavl to register the violations. The restoration of the Assumption Cathedral was the main problem as the local governor rejected the demand of architects to stick to the original of the ruined cathedral. As a result, Yaroslavl may be deleted from the UNESCO list.

MOSCOW, August 2

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