Posted 1 июля 2022,, 13:47

Published 1 июля 2022,, 13:47

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:37

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:37

Big game. Why the society for the protection of historical heritage in St. Petersburg dispersed

Big game. Why the society for the protection of historical heritage in St. Petersburg dispersed

1 июля 2022, 13:47
One of the central topics in the public life of St. Petersburg this month was the situation around the local branch of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments (VOOPIIK). Activists were literally squeezed out of the organization and a new leadership was elected.

Why all this was arranged, Novye Izvestia sorted it out.

Alexander Dybin

The St. Petersburg branch of VOOPIIK has been operating since Soviet times, and this is one of the main city protection organizations in the Northern capital. Members of the society actively speak out and act as experts on almost all high-profile topics related to the protection of historical heritage. Similar conflicts in St. Petersburg occur regularly when developers want to build something on the site of an old building.

But the summer of 2022 turned out to be scandalous at VOOPIIK, a split occurred within the department. The central council of the organization suspended the work of the St. Petersburg branch, and the procedure for re-election of the leadership was launched. Conferences in the districts of the city, where delegates were chosen for the main vote, were held in the best traditions of scandalous elections or communal wars: behind closed doors and under the protection of private security companies. In the Admiralteisky district, it even reached the point of assault: the guard simply carried Anna Kapitonova out of the chairman's hall. And on the eve of the conference, well-known city defenders Alexander Kononov, Anna Kapitonova, Alexei Kovalev and Boris Vishnevsky were expelled from VOOPIIK, who entered into a confrontation with the main ideologist of the reboot of the department Anton Ivanov. The elections were already held without them and delegates from several district offices, who announced a boycott. Nevertheless, VOOPIIK announced a new composition of the leadership of the organization. It was headed by Anton Ivanov, and the presidium included director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky, rector of the Academy of Arts Semyon Mikhailovsky and Polytechnic University Andrey Rudskoy. The last three were not previously members of the organization and were accepted on the eve of the conference.

The city defenders left behind by the VOOPIIK do not call what is happening otherwise than a raider seizure and are preparing appeals to the courts to declare the elections invalid. The beneficiaries are the city committee for the protection of monuments, which is presented as an absolute evil in cases of the demolition of historical objects, as well as developers who have a permanent interest in building in the city center. But what is so valuable in this public organization that someone needed to make a scandal for the whole city in order to control it?

The city defender Anna Kapitonova believes that although the society did not have any powers and control functions, there is authority and the ability to work systematically in the field of city protection.

“City defenders are very active in showing shortcomings in the work of the committee for the protection of monuments, drawing attention to urban planning crimes”, - says Kapitonova. - For a long time it was not possible to eliminate the city defenders. From the outside, this is difficult to do, as we have a close-knit community. But when the opportunity arose to do it from within, they took advantage of it. We do not intend to leave the situation, the decision of the conference was adopted with gross violations and we do not recognize it. We will protest. In terms of my personal history, the report about the crime was sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the beatings were filmed, everything was recorded. We will go to court."

Context: grandiose plans and criminal cases

The scandal around the city's main anti-hail protection organization took place against the backdrop of three important processes for this area. In St. Petersburg, the process of adopting a new master plan is entering the final stage. A collection of comments to the document has now been announced.

The second case is amendments to the legislation on cultural heritage. The authorities intend to abolish the norm, which automatically protects all houses built after 1917. According to the estimates of city defenders, if this happens, about a thousand buildings in the city center will come out of protection. In theory, they could be demolished and built up with something more commercially attractive.

The third factor is the criminal case that was initiated by the investigative committee of the Russian Federation after the city defenders appealed to the head of the IC RF, Alexander Bastrykin. The case was initiated against unidentified employees of the Committee for State Control and Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments on the fact of abuse of office. The city defenders managed to convince investigators that there is a violation of the law in the practice used by officials. Namely, in disputes over the belonging of the building to the historical one, later extensions are often found and it is announced that the house does not fall under the norm of 1917. The most recent example is the arena of the Life Guards of the Finnish Regiment on Bolshoy Prospekt of Vasilyevsky Island, which began to be dismantled this spring. The building was built in 1854, in the 1930s it was rebuilt as a bakery, and in the 60s the second floor was completed. The documents indicate the year of construction as 1937, which made it possible to demolish the building. City guards are sure that this was done illegally. Their opponents claim that in 1937 a new building was built from old bricks and nothing remained of the original project. Be that as it may, there is a criminal case, and the city authorities and deputies are planning to cancel the norm in the near future, because of which this case appeared.

It is hard to believe that all these processes converged at one point by chance.

Opinion from the outside - everything is complicated

Architecture critic Maria Yelkina believes that the situation is too multifaceted to unequivocally name heroes and villains in it. The community has questions for city defenders, and for the authorities, and for developers.

“What's happening with WOOPIR is more bad than good, since creating a homogeneous environment with one opinion is not the best thing that can happen,” the expert says. - At the same time, I would not evaluate the previous version of the WOOPIA as an honest and professional organization. The Society for the Protection of Monuments was loyal to some, not to others. This was a kind of political game. There should be a professional public organization in the field of urban planning in St. Petersburg, I do not know how it should appear, but so far it does not exist. They fought with VOOPIIIK, among other things, because the city defenders themselves abused the moral position of the defenders of the heritage. Often it was like a terror of individual projects and organizations. And there were questions why they turned a blind eye to some projects, but didn’t close their eyes to some. The activity was not completely transparent. I would like love for St. Petersburg to be expressed in the ability to give constructive and responsible assessments”.

Another important layer of the conflict is the business interests of the warring parties. Just like Anton Ivanov, who gained the upper hand in the war for VOOPIIK, has a business related to conducting examinations, so ex-deputy chairman Alexander Kononov, who was expelled from VOOPIIK, also has a specialized company.

According to the SPARK database, Anton Ivanov owns PN and PO Soyuzstroyrestavratsiya and a stake in Temple Group LLC. Both companies are actively working on government contracts. Since 2016, Temple Group has received 147.3 million rubles from the government agencies of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region for various examinations.

Alexander Kononov owns the "EXPERT CENTER FOR THE PROTECTION OF HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL MONUMENTS" (EC VOPIK for short). With government contracts, he is more modest. The last one was in 2016 from the museum "St. Isaac's Cathedral" for 370 thousand rubles.