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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bulgakov Squatters Granted a Reprieve

A motley crew of radical ecologists, musicians, bohemians and a leading actress Monday foiled an attempt to evict the last squatters from the Garden Ring apartment block made famous by author Mikhail Bulgakov, giving their historic squat a reprieve from redevelopment as office space.


Bodyguards and representatives of the property development company AOZT Bolshaya Sadovaya 10 -- named after the building's address -- withdrew when faced with a 30-strong alliance of protesters and a television crew in apartment No. 5.


The company plans to turn Bulgakov's building and the scene of his extraordinary novel, "The Master and Margarita," into offices. Bulgakov's own home -- now a museum -- and a few private apartments that still belong to the city are to be spared.


But not the block's last remaining squat, in apartment No. 5. According to No. 5's inhabitants, its loss would be a disaster for Moscow's creative subculture.


Bulgakov's building was badly neglected in the last few years of Soviet power, which led to the eventual takeover of the empty flats by underground artists and musicians in the mid-1980s.


The building's vibrant squatting community was soon given the nickname "Mayak," after the nearby Mayakovskaya metro station. The stairway leading to Bulgakov's apartment became a shrine to subculture, expressed in wall drawings and graffiti that were daring for the time.


In the first years of perestroika, "Mayak" featured in current affairs programs and television shows, such as "Vzglyad." More recently, in 1996, "The Hippie University" held lectures here to encourage the younger generation to continue the noncommercial counter-culture.


"Most interesting bands and musicians have their roots in our cultural center and an eviction will be a great loss for creative life in Moscow," said Dima Zarevsky, a former inhabitant of apartment No. 5.


"Last night many former occupants of the building came together for a farewell party and a last concert," he added. They would also have been saying farewell to the graffiti in the stairwell, which is to be painted over.


But the squatters, the radical ecological movement Khraniteli Radugi (Rainbow Keepers) and other protesters said Monday that more than their squat and subculture are at stake.


The Society for the Protection of Monuments has refused to classify apartment No. 5's "Russian moderne" interior for protection, although the protesters argue that there are few comparable buildings left in Moscow. As a result, the developers can renovate the apartment without maintaining its character.


The apartment block was built by the well known industrialist Pigit, who established the Moscow Ducat tobacco factory,. Since then, it has been home and inspiration to many artists and writers, including Sergei Yesenin. The poet met his future wife, American dancer Isodora Duncan, here.


However, the final curtain has not yet fallen. Actress Maria Borodina gained a stay of execution for the squatters in impromptu talks Monday with Bolshaya Sadovaya 10's general director, Nikolai Korneyev.


"I am determined to find an investor who will put up $20 million to restore the whole building in an appropriate fashion. We have about three months to accomplish this task," Borodina said.


In addition, the Rainbow Keepers, a radical environmental group known for its spectacular actions, has pledged to stay in apartment No. 5 until the bitter end.


"The Rainbow Keepers are organizing a blockade of this squat. We are against the destruction of national heritage, whether this means protecting parks, such as [Gorky Park's] Neskuchny Sad, or our cultural history," declared activist Vlad Tupikin.


While a settlement still has to be reached, supporters of the building's history are already putting in 24-hour shifts to restore the stucco ceiling of apartment No. 5.