Legal Dispute Evicts Staff From Planetarium

MTA security guard on Wednesday locking a fence surrounding the planetarium, which has been closed since 1994.
Security guards stormed the Moscow Planetarium and forced staff onto the street Wednesday morning, the latest development in a long-running legal dispute between City Hall and minority shareholders.

Only three staff members were present when "around 20 men in uniform" entered the planetarium, on Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Ulitsa in central Moscow, at around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Andrei Lobanov, the planetarium's technical director, told journalists at the scene.

Two apparently unarmed guards declined to name the company they worked for and refused to let a journalist through the gates to the planetarium, 61 percent of which is owned by the city government. Several policemen stood on the sidewalk outside the building.

The planetarium, near the Barrikadnaya metro station, has been closed since 1994. A group of private shareholders, led by its former director, Igor Mikitasov, purchased 39 percent of the company in 1998. Reconstruction work halted in 2006, and Mikitasov claims City Hall did not pay the construction workers.

The city government last month applied to reclaim its total investment of 1.7 billion rubles ($70 million) over the period of 1999 to 2006 and put the planetarium into administration, bringing in external management.

Speaking by telephone from a foreign country he declined to name Wednesday, Mikitasov said the armed guards broke down the planetarium's doors and carried out documents. Employees had kept him abreast of the developments, Mikitasov said.

Andrei Fesenko, a senior expert with the planetarium, said employees were told that they could keep their jobs under new management but that he was unsure whether to stay after working as a children's astronomy teacher there for 22 years.

"It's a question of conscience," Fesenko said.

Designed by architects Mikhail Barshch and Mikhail Sinyavsky, the planetarium first opened in 1929.