Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police to patrol Taganka battle

Moscow's fiercest privatization battle nearly erupted in violence Monday, when a city official threatened to send in riot troops to remove residents from a disputed lot near Taganka Square.


For more than nine months, residents at 7 Narodnaya Ulitsa have resisted the efforts of a Russian-Austrian joint venture to evict them and begin contracting an office building.


Monday's threat ended in an apology from the official, and a permanent posting of militia officers to keep the peace.


Passions ignited early Saturday morning, when 20 men from a private security service hired by the Russian Football Federation attempted forcibly to enter the fenced-in compound at 7 Narodnaya to evict its few remaining residents. But vigilantes hired to defend the building alerted the residents and neighbors, who prevented the men from coming in, and the local militia soon arrived to chase away the assailants.


"People talk about the possibility of civil war in the future", said Vitaly Karavayev, a resident at 9 Narodnaya who assists in the round-the-clock vigil next door at No. 7. "But it has already started right here. The government of Moscow is at war with its own people".


The privatization struggle unfolding at Taganka Square is a microcosm of the power struggle within Moscow as the city reshapes itself to emerge from the Communist era.


At the heart of this battle is a conflict between Mayor Gavriil Popov, who wields executive power in the capital, and the Moscow City Council he formerly headed, which nominally controls the city's real estate, but, in fact, has little real power and has distinguished itself mainly by seeking to block Popov.


As far as city residents are concerned, many of Popov's privatization proposals have spawned resentment


and created a feeling that the mayor is selling the city off to foreigners.


One such proposal is the project at 7 Narodnaya, which is being run by Horecs Center, a joint venture of Austria's Horecs Leasing Inc. , and the Football Federation.


Saturday's failed assault was the latest effort of the federation - with the apparent support of the city government - to free the premises for the construction of a new office center.


On April 21, armed men stormed one of the two buildings at 7 Narodnaya, injuring four of the guards, two of whom were later arrested by the militia for possession of clubs. In the predawn hours of May 14, a band of 30 men cut through a fence surrounding the plot and entered the compound, only to be turned back by the vigilantes, residents and neighbors.


The confrontation Saturday provoked an order by Deputy Mayor Yuri Luzhkov to rid the area of "the guards and security areas of both sides and maintain the peace", according to Militia Major Leonid Yablokov of the 37th precinct militia.


Yablokov and eight armed militiamen, some with automatic weapons, arrived at 7 Narodnaya at 8: 00 P. M. Saturday to "establish order" on the premises. But when the small crowd of residents, neighbors and city deputies refused to disperse, the militia left.


The once elegant structures at 7 Narodaaya are now clearly in dire need of repair. A large, green concrete fence surrounds the plot, interrupted at intervals by chained gates. The upper floors visible from the street reveal gaping black holes punctuated with shards of broken glass and boarded up rectangles instead of windows. Inside the compound, building materials strewn all over the plot combine with broken doors and an abandoned first-floor cafe to give the impression of an uninhabitable building. This is precisely the verdict reached by inspectors of various city health, engineering and architectural departments, who condemned Korpus 2 and ordered it torn down in late 1991.


That was also when Horecs Center received permission from the mayor's office to begin building a 17-floor office building at 7 Narodnaya. The project was part of a plan by Popov's city administration to use prime real estate to attract foreign developers and raise money for new apartment buildings and much-needed repairs for the center's decrepit infrastructure.


The trouble began at Taganka when the joint venture began attempting to evict residents last fall.


Alexander Tukmanov, deputy chairman of the Russian Football Federation says the inhabitants of 7 Narodnaya were offered accommodations "superior" to their present communal flats and have become victims of local deputies "playing at democracy and grabbing for power".


Inhabitants say the federation tried to force them out, using threats and by sending "bandits" to damage the building and its apartments, an allegation Tukmanov vehemently denied -although he admitted that "fans loyal to football with nothing to do could easily do these things". Those standing guard at 7 Narodnaya do not see the conflict as a battle to protect their homes. Valentina Nelidova, a writer who has been living at 7 Narodnaya only since 1987, was offered what she called a "fine" apartment. But she plans to stay at 7 Narodnaya out of


principle.


"Once we realized that behind this project stood the sale of our capital city and the death of our country", Nelidova said, "we just united. This is beyond self-interest. and I'll stay here until this question is resolved legally".


That is not likely to happen soon. An April 20 decision of the Moscow City Council upheld a local regional council decision and outlawed the 1990 decision that gave the joint venture the rights to 7 and 9 Narodnaya.


"Horecs Center has no legal right to do anything here", said Grigory Kadykov, a city council member standing guard at 7 Narodnaya. "This is simply an attempt to seize the plot, that's all".


The mayor's administration sees it differently. In a May 7 memo, one of Popov's men ordered the Russian Football Federation to "take immediate measures" to clear the way for construction to begin. The Football Federation, in turn, hired the private security company "GateGuard" on May 13 to take control of "the construction site at 7 Narodnaya" as of 5: 00 a. m. on May 14.


With the failure of Gate Guard to take control, both sides are now in a holding pattern. Horecs Center is under contract to began building by May 20, or be subject to fines from investors. Tukmanov says the joint venture will honor its contract and begin building. The residents of 7 and 9 Narodnaya say they are ready.


"Either we'll be victorious here, or we'll die together here", Nelidova said. "But no one is going to leave".