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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communism's Built, and Covered Up

It has always been slightly out of place in post-Soviet, consumerist Moscow, but at election time, the magnificent "We Are Building Communism" bas-relief on Serpukhovskaya Ploshchad became just too much.


Emblazoned onto the wall of a six-story building set astride the southern arc of the Garden Ring, the mammoth artwork -- a bold depiction of three heroic workers staring toward the communist future -- is undoubtedly a gem of high-Soviet style.


But in an election season, President Boris Yeltsin's campaign workers, having blanketed Moscow with billboards of their candidate, decided that the bas-relief with its blatant pro-communist message had to go.


And so they recently had it covered over with a huge vinyl poster that carried the slogan "For Civil Peace and Social Harmony."


Vladimir Makarov, director of an outdoor advertising agency for Moscow's Central District, said his agency was ordered to put up the new poster. "It was part of when it was made, the wall has come under repeated attack by Moscow's new powers. They have tried at various times to cover it up, but have failed to wipe it out completely. A few years ago, Russia's new industrial elite cleverly incorporated the wall into an advertising campaign. Beneath the "We Are Building Communism" slogan, the Peresvet Industrial Trading Group put up a billboard proclaiming, "But We Are Building the New Russia."


Mayor Yury Luzhkov, trying to beef up his image as a champion of Moscow's architectural renaissance, later covered the wall over with a huge poster of a 19th-century view of the Kremlin.


But no one has dared to actually wipe out the bas-relief, and after each new fad, the posters are taken down and the wall reclaims its socialist message.


Although the work is grand, its creator had much bigger things in mind for his now-classic design. Monumentalist Yury Bosko had originally included the three workers in his composition "Energy to the People," which was commissioned by the Volgograd Power station in 1961.


Bosko himself refused to participate when a few years later the Communist Youth League ordered a copy of the bas-relief to be set up in Moscow.


"This thing is badly done and out of place," he said."My work didn't have the 'We Are Building Communism' slogan," he continued. "And the silhouettes on the Moscow version look like dwarfs. They are much taller on the original."


Bosko is not alone in deploring the bas-relief. Democratically minded local city officials would also like to destroy it as a blot on an otherwise forward-looking landscape.


Tamara Gorelova, an official of the local Yakimanka region administration, said, "It hurts my eyes when I see that thing right on the frontier of our territory."


But Gorelova said destroying the bas-relief would be expensive. And besides, it would arouse the opposition of the Moscow City Architecture Committee, which sees the world in artistic, and not political, terms.


Sergei Kulikov, head of the Urban Design Department, said the work is a fine example of Soviet monumental art -- and stands firm on the position that the bas-relief should never be removed.


"I'm the one who gives final approvals for everything concerning the look of the city," Kulikov said. "And while I'm here, I will never sign anything allowing this bas-relief to be covered or removed."


Nadezhda Niskovskaya, another Urban Design Department official, added, "Our streets are so bluntly serious. Why not leave it as an example of its time?"


Niskovskaya thinks that rather than serving as a pro-communist message, people who look at it today will remember the not-too-distant time when Soviet citizens marched in the same mechanical fashion as the silhouettes on the Serpukhovskaya Ploshchad wall.


The use of the bas-relief as an advertising space has now been prohibited by the Moscow City Architecture Committee. But it may still get the occasional makeover.


Galina Shvets from the information and publishing department of the city government said the next use of the space will be a vinyl poster with a view of Moscow in preparation for the city's 850th anniversary.


Meanwhile, the artist at the center of it all said he could not care less about the future of his work. "If somebody tries to do something to the original in Volgograd, I would certainly try to interfere," said Bosko. "But this one shouldn't have been there in first place."