Staunton, March 18 – Many interpret the protests about handing over St. Isaac’s to the Russian Orthodox Church as “the last defense of anti-clericalism,” “the last outpost of democracy in Russia,” an example of NIMBY, or even “the beginning of a new perestroika,” Anastasiya Mironova says.
But those explanations do not capture what lies under all of them, the St. Petersburg journalist says. Instead, the fight over St. Isaac’s is really “a struggle against the forced peripherization” of the northern capital and reducing it to the status of the rest of the country as “one large periphery” of the capital (rufabula.com/author/mironova/1535).
Petersburg, Mironova writes, is “the single city which from time to time resists attempts to make the country strictly unipolar,” but since 2000, it has been fighting a losing battle in this regard. “In the city almost do not remain opinion leaders, important institutions ... or even serious major business.” All these things are now concentrated exclusively in Moscow.
Transferring St. Isaac’s to the Russian Orthodox Church is “in fact a step to converting St. Petersburg into a periphery administered from the outside, deprived of its own culture and history. Because what would Petersburg be without its museums?” the philologist-journalist asks rhetorically.
The transfer of the Smolny and Sampson cathedrals to the church was “also a step toward peripherization,” Mironova says. “The fusion of Petersburg’s Public Library with the Russian State Library was not a steep but a leap in this same direction.”
“The bestial attempt to finally make Petersburg a part of the periphery failed in 2014 when officials wanted to carry off to Moscow from the Hermitage a collection of impressionists.” That was about whether Petersburg was going to remain a center of world art just as the library was about whether it would have a world-class research facility.
The recent issue about building apartments around the Pulkov observatory is about “the right of that observatory to be world-class as well. “And the issue of the use of St. Isaac’s Cathedral is about the right of the city of St. Petersburg to have a monument of international significance.”
“Moscow doesn’t very much like that there is still in Russia a city capable of ‘flexing its cultural muscles.’ And “precisely in these words,” Mironova says, “and not in any other,” that conveys what the struggle over St. Isaac’s is about. Those who look to Moscow want to make Petersburg simply a provincial city; those who don’t want St. Isaac’s to remain a museum.
There is no middle ground, she continues. “Now, Petersburg is my city, although a live in a village” on the outskirts. Her husband is a Petersburger as is her daughter, who was born there and has an apartment in the northern capital. “Most likely, she will study and live in Petersburg” most of her life.
“I want that this will be a city with its own fundamental library, its own first-class observatory, its own collection of impressionists,” Mironova says; “and the devil take it one with its own St. Isaac’s cathedral that belongs to the city and not to the church!”
That’s why she and in her view many others are coming to today’s march against handing over the cathedral to the Moscow Patriarchate. “I have the right,” she says; and so too do the other residents of the Northern Capital, which must remain a world-class city and not become a backward and peripheral one.