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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Save Architectural Treasures Before It's Too Late

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Email the Opinion Page Editor

Editor,
About a year after moving to Russia to live permanently, I quit being a businessman and became a squatter living with a group of interesting artists and musicians and gained great experience by helping them repair the beautiful old building in which they had been squatting since 1987. I tried to make a creative youth union that was to be a model for a healthy way of life for young creative people. I also called correspondents to come visit me and write articles about me to help scare away the businessmen who were trying to scare my friends out of the building.

Later, in October 1995, I moved into an abandoned apartment in an architectural wonder at 20 Ostozhenka Ulitsa. This building was scheduled for illegal reconstruction at the time. It was there that I started to defend architectural memorials, by finding and inviting activists to help me physically guard/squat in the building, calling correspondents and, of course, persuading the city agency responsible for architectural treasures not to fear the new bandits and to help me save the priceless interior elements of that building.

There was no "great" success to speak of in any of these projects, and it is only possible to speak about the "great" learning experience of trying harder when the climate just gets worse and worse.

I am writing this letter to urge President Vladimir Putin to take steps to institute new federal controls over architectural monuments — and particularly to institute federal control over all buildings built before the Revolution (presently, the municipal agency for defending monuments of history and culture has this control).

Before perestroika, architecture in the style of Art Nouveau/Modern was not given preservation status because this style was considered bourgeois. Since the fall of communism, the practice of denying registration of these buildings has continued because of pressure from business interests seeking to take them over. Even worse, sometimes documentation is stolen or altered so that no one will even know that a building is in fact a historical treasure or, in some cases, that it ever existed. I have heard that some city inspectors in charge of such monuments have had their lives threatened in order to force them to go along with the destruction of monuments or parts of monuments. Cases of bribery are also widespread.

When I took up the fight to save the rare interior elements of 20 Ostozhenka Ulitsa, I called a woman who is a well-known specialist on Art Nouveau/Modern at UNESCO. She looked at the interior elements of the building and urged me to try to save them. She later brought me the protocol number and date of registration giving this building status as an architectural monument. She told me she got this information from the city agency that protects monuments of history and culture and told me that they would probably try to tell me that no one can find a copy of the documents proving that the building was registered as a memorial: In that case, I should inform them that the protocol number is 28 and the date of registration was October 1991.

She told me that it should be possible to get new copies of the documents with this information. She also gave me the name and number of the inspector for that region of Moscow. That inspector didn't want to help because she was afraid of bandits. Later, though, her assistant at that time came out to help, because she had cataloged the interior elements of the building in 1991 when it was registered as a memorial and really cared for the building's culturally valuable interior. Later when I was speaking to the reluctant inspector again she said she had been to speak to the director of the region about our building and they just "can't find" any documents proving that our building was ever registered. When I told her the number and date of registration she was very surprised.

Nearby on Ostozhenka Ulitsa a beautiful two-story wing of a wonderful 19th-century building (No. 36) was completely demolished by MOST-Bank.

I would like President Vladimir Putin to consider issuing a presidential order requiring all companies (and responsible individuals in case of bankruptcy/restructuring) to fully restore any culturally valuable buildings they changed or face severe prison terms. The destruction/alteration of an architectural monument is a criminal offense in Russia.

In the Constitution, it is written that there are only two duties that all Russian citizens are required to do: one is to defend their country and the other is to defend architectural monuments. Although I do not have Russian citizenship, I have been quite honored to try to fulfill my duty to Russia. Please, President Putin, consider issuing an emergency presidential order to save architectural monuments of Russia before more treasures are lost.

Paul Spangler
Moscow



Stop Turning Away



Editor,
Lately I have developed an overwhelming sense of dread every time I set foot in a Moscow metro station or underpass. It is as if I am descending willingly into a nightmare, a shop of horrors, a hospital ward, death row, a drug rehabilitation center, an opium den for pre-pubescent glue sniffers, a consortium of penniless geriatrics with just enough strength to hold open a shaky hand and muster a look of such desperation that I am now only able to look at the ground. It is an encounter worthy of a Dantesque Hell.

Just yesterday I came upon a young soldier with a bloody stump. As if the stump wasn't enough, the refugees of the same war that claimed the soldier's leg are also beginning to line the corridors with their children lying in a heap next to them or in their laps.

And this is summer. I shudder at these people's collective fates in winter. How can they live like this? Or more aptly, how can we allow them to live like this?

Upon escaping into the light of day and finally being able to breathe, I am almost run over by one of the black Mercedes that seem to be taking over the city. I thought to myself what the proceeds of one of these luxurious wonders could do to improve the lives of those suffering below.

I am to have lunch in an upscale Italian restaurant, and I just can't imagine ordering a $10 plate of spaghetti. However, my appetite miraculously returns as I really didn't see anything so horrible as my eyes were glued to the ground.

It is clearly time we raised our eyes.

Sean Lubner
Moscow



Not the End of Time



In response to "Berezovsky Sacks Nezavisimaya Gazeta Editor," June 7.

Editor,
The Russian and foreign media, including The Moscow Times — which I greatly respect — are filled these days with articles, essays, interviews or just exclamations about Boris Berezovsky's firing of Vitaly Tretyakov. If it were not for a quote about "freedom" that I heard, I believe, on the Vek weekly program, I would never have picked up my pen. If you believe a program that so pretentiously calls itself "one hundred years," one era ended with Tretyakov's firing and another began.

Can you imagine anything more absurd? Has our regard for ourselves and the times in which we live really fallen so low? The Soviet Union fell apart, the socialist bloc ceased to exist, Czechoslovakia was divided, Yugoslavia was bombed for humanitarian reasons, South African apartheid came to an end, many other events occurred, and Vek would have us believe that all of this was merely a chronicle of the times of Vitaly Tretyakov. Meanwhile, what took place was nothing more than a scuffle between two well-known "peas in a pod" that ended, as happens in nature, with the victory of the strongest. That is how it is, no matter how much they assure an alarmed public of their love for one another.

For me, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta that was born on the wave of glasnost and perestroika died in 1995 when Tretyakov announced to his closest advisers and co-founders of the publication that he was closing shop in view of insurmountable financial problems.

When their categorical objections, a virtual revolt, brought him to his senses, he was not grateful, but instead mortgaged his "independent" newspaper to Berezovsky. With the help of a special police detail, he rid himself of those who wanted to try living and writing without being in thrall to the oligarch. Since that time, Nezavisimaya Gazeta has become and remains what it is today.

There is a joke from Soviet days about Stalinist questionnaires: Has there been any wavering in carrying out the general Party line? There has been wavering, but in unison with the general Party line.

Thus wavered Tretyakov over the past five years, along with co-workers grieving over his departure. He would have continued swaying in time with Berezovsky, except the latter decided to sway by himself. And perhaps Tretyakov decided to start swaying with President Vladimir Putin.

In human terms, I sympathize with Tretyakov. I am ready to wish him success in whatever field of endeavor he chooses. Judging by his stated intention to create a new media group, he is not in such a bad situation. But what does all this have to do with this era? No matter how hard things get, life will continue without Tretyakov and even without Berezovsky.

Boris Pankin
Stockholm, Sweden



No Cold War II



In response to "Bush Calls ABM 'Relic of the Past,'" June 14.

Editor,
I am not an alarmist and yet I find myself alarmed by the upcoming Bush-Putin meeting, intending to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and thus clear the way for the discredited Star Wars development and concentration on China as a new Cold War adversary. Let me hasten to advise you that I am no Bush-basher, although I have much reason to be. I have learned to pick my fights and the current threat overrides all others in my opinion.

I am old enough to have witnessed the mutual waste of resources attendant to arms races, not the least of which is neglected infrastructure and social progress on both sides. Even at that, we did not defeat the Soviet Union — the wheels merely came off their failed system.

The practical side of me, when perplexed by government, tends to ask who profits and who loses — where the money goes. The winners in a Star Wars-Cold War II environment will be those who have been dear to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the last 25 years: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, TRW/Raytheon and their like, supported by a nearly endless slipstream of subcontractors. They are a lobbying group of unparalleled proportion.

The losers will include a mass of humanity with far less lobbying clout. Nations condemned to remain poor with further neglect of the social infrastructure — which includes schools, the arts and nearly all civic progress worth speaking about.

Looking deeper for a subtext, one might consider that China, that long sought-after and bottomless source of consumers so dear to American business, has recently flexed its muscles as a producer. Quite often a black market producer, occasionally annoying and yet, with nearly a quarter of the world's population, might not that annoyance grow to threaten American interests? Horrors! Was it really such a good idea, this WTO membership? Might not a China impoverished by an arms race be more elegantly profiled as gradual consumer rather than imminent producer? It merits attention, this possible rethinking of the business climate. When in doubt, follow the money.

There is not a single military voice in support of this treaty abrogation. Not one. Nor is there a credible threat from China, busy as it is with a grinding of gears from communist to consumerist society. In the absence of any viable superpower other than ourselves, the vision of space-delivered weaponry against us is ludicrous. If there is a threat it is a terrorist threat and delivery of a bomb will be by suitcase and rental car rather than missile.

Peace among the superpowers (or what remains of that once mutually threatening group) has been achieved after 40 years of unbelievable expense, waste of human resources and precipitous international fear and an unparalleled degree of mistrust. Bush and Putin must not be allowed to put us once more on that failed course of Cold War.

James Freeman
Jablonec nad Nisou, Czech Republic



Government Inc.



In response to "Putin's Own Brand of Discipline," a column by Boris Kagarlitsky, June 8.

Editor,
Corporate taxes are favorites to those who enjoy government programs. Corporate taxes are popular for two main reasons. One, it is easier to collect corporate taxes than it is to collect income taxes from individuals because corporations need accounting to survive and thereby reveal themselves. And, second, socialists like to point at "big corporations" when they need to blame someone, while socialists rarely blame government.

Therefore, taxing corporations is a favorite bully pastime. But, what about the poor? When the bread company and the milk company are taxed, the poor pay tax because the price of the product reflects the cost of doing business. Also, exports are hurt because tax adds cost to the product for export, again hurting working people.

Socialists don't seem to realize that when government is provided money, elected officials invite corporations to bid for the available funds in order to achieve their political ends. Soon, company representatives (also known as lobbyists) offer all the knowledge that is known in the halls of the legislature while the working man is working. Legislators then become dependent on corporate bank accounts to fund re-election to office. So, if you're comfortable with a future of massive corporate contributions to your politicians for favors and business, then go ahead.

But, Americans don't like what's become of the corporate/government partnership here in the United States. User fees are the preferred method of taxation for those who seek to avoid conflict of interest with their politicians.

Marty Riske
Fargo, North Dakota



Will Rogers' Love Child



Editor,
My letter is not in response to a specific article, rather a specific writer. In my journeys through Russia, I have not yet conquered the Far East. It has always been my goal since first setting foot in the country. Although I've yet to attain this dream, I feel I understand the region better because of the articles contributed by Russell Working.

I have read endlessly of specific regions on the east coast of Russia, but the spin I get from Working is not only informative, but far more entertaining than the dry articles I usually encounter. His use of irony and humor never fail to keep my attention.

After reading his contributions to your newspaper, I have come to two conclusions: First, he must write a full-length book on his experiences in Vladivostok. Second, by some freak of nature, Working is the love child of Will Rogers and Dave Barry.

Jackie Slabaugh
Canton, Ohio