10/15/2009, 00.00
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Save Moscow from real estate moguls: they are worse than Stalin

Members of the movement for the protection of monuments risk their lives to defend against real estate speculation. Old houses and villas razed to make way for shopping malls, parking lots and residences. With a helping hand from the mayor of Moscow and his wife.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Houses from the '600s and '700s, noble villas that have survived the burning of Napoleon in 1812, are falling under the blows of Moscow real estate moguls with the complicity of the municipal administration. The pace of demolitions echo the fury of the urban destruction of Stalin's time. But the monster is the modernization of today: historic buildings are being destroyed to make way for parking lots, shopping centres and extra luxury residences for the new bourgeoisie. A vigorous debate is underway in Russian media, and is swelling the ranks of a movement for the protection of monuments: ordinary citizens determined to fight to preserve the "old Moscow". Even at the risk of their own lives.  

Among the recently destroyed figures the "house of the deacon" (dating back to 1695), part of the Church of the Resurrection in Kadashi street, which also risks being razed.  Demolition had started in 2003 but was suspended because of protests. The building remained half in ruins until last week, when - despite the guarantees of protection made by Mayor Yury Luzhkov - the cranes finished their work. Soon in its place will rise a Five Capitals apartment block of 36 thousand square meters.

To the cry of "new is beautiful”, the historical value and beauty of a building have become negligible. What matters is the land it rises on. According to the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society, this is cultural "genocide"; over 400 historic buildings have disappeared in the last 12 years. In 2004 alone the capital lost Voentorg, a huge department store dating to the '900s demolished to make way for a shopping centre and the hotel Moskva, whose image is the symbol of the renowned Stolichnaya vodka, which was replaced with a Four Seasons.

According to the activists, the  business of the Muscovite real estate moguls is aided and abetted by the municipality: 80% of construction projects in some way involve the administration of Moscow and inspection bodies are subject to the mayor Yury Luzhkov, whose rich wife chairs the real estate development company Intek. Thus buildings are added and removed from the list of protected monuments without a precise explanation.

Dozens of families have been dispossessed and forcibly confined to the suburbs. And the citizens will stand for it no longer.   In August, Ljudmila Melikov, 70, was killed while protesting for the preservation of the Bolshoj neighborhood where she lived. She died crushed by a truck in the yard that had taken the place of a house from the 800s. Ironically, the yard is just across from the Faculty of Architecture of the State University, where young people study who should in future have the preservation of their heritage at heart.


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