Staunton, June 30 – The St. Petersburg branch of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments (VOOPIIK) has become the site of an ugly power struggle pitting developers, Moscow, city officials, and those concerned about the fate of historical buildings in the northern capital at odds.
It would be nice to say that there were good guys, those who seek to preserve cultural and historical monuments, against bad guys, those who are interested in making money from tearing down older buildings and putting up new ones; but the situation is more complicated than that, the result of developers penetrating VOOPIIK and activists winning positions in the city regime.
That is the judgment of architectural critic Mariya Elkina who says that the heavy-handedness of Russian officials who corrupted the election process in the local branch is unfortunately matched by the self-interestedness of many of the activists in the organization (newizv.ru/news/society/01-07-2022/bolshaya-igra-zachem-v-peterburge-razognali-obschestvo-ohrany-istoricheskogo-naslediya).
That pattern must be kept in mind, she argues, rather than assuming as many have in the past that VOOPIIK is a pure civic movement and anyone who opposes it is an unqualified enemy. In fact, over time, people on each of those former sides have gotten involved in the other; and so deciding who is the enemy and who is the hero is anything but easy.
A lot is at stake in this fight including but not limited to the drafting of a new city plan and the fate of more than 1000 buildings in the city center. If VOOPIIK is unable to recover the purity of its past, its influence will ebb; and a group that helped to power the rise of ethnic and regionalist movements in the late Soviet period may be finally left without any influence.
Both sides in this conflict plan to go to court, but whether a Russian court can or even would want to strengthen this early and longstanding form of civic activism remains to be seen. Indeed, it now seems more likely that the powers that be in Moscow have decided to destroy it not by a headlong attack but by means of corruption.
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