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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

500 Protest at Patriarch's Ponds

MTThe pond, which used to be located between this bulldozer and the trees, has been drained in preparation for a set of statues.
Hundreds of angry residents came out Saturday to protest the city's renovation of Patriarch's Ponds with a series of gigantic statues to honor famed author Mikhail Bulgakov.

The small, tranquil square -- which was the setting for Bulgakov's book "The Master and Margarita" and has remained virtually unchanged since the early 19th century -- has been rendered unrecognizable since work began to renovate the square for the statues by sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov.

Workers have drained the pond and begun digging out layers of silt. Large bulldozers and drills stand in the middle of what once was the pond.

However, it remains uncertain whether Rukavishnikov's statues will go up.

The biggest sore point with residents is a planned 12-meter-high primus that critics say will ruin the square. The primus would be joined by a series of other statues, including one of Jesus seemingly walking on water and of Bulgakov sitting on a bench.

Not since sculptor Zurab Tseretelli's loathed statue of Peter the Great has a piece of art drawn such outrage and revulsion from Moscow residents. The protest has united political parties as diverse as the Communists, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces.

About 500 residents and politicians gathered Saturday afternoon in the first of a planned series of weekly protests.

Alexander Krasnov, the head of Presnensky district, where Patriarch's Ponds is located, said City Hall has broken numerous laws by pushing through a project in a historical area without the required consent of the Presnensky district and even the Moscow City Duma's committee on monuments.

The original plan for the square included the construction of elite apartment blocks, a casino and an underground parking garage, Krasnov said.

In the face of protests, the city has said it will not go ahead with that construction.

However, Krasnov and many others believe that the city will still attempt to complete the original plan, and they say that the city is trying to make money off the area.

Property in Patriarch's Ponds is one of the most prestigious and expensive in Moscow.

Rukavishnikov fanned the flames late last month by saying his work was not for the people of today but for their descendants.

He said there are only eight people in the world whose opinion of his art he respected.

The uproar over the statues has made Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov sit up and take notice.

"There are grounds to argue whether we need to raise the primus on Patriarch's Pond," Luzhkov said Saturday after the protest, Interfax reported.

"Experts and Moscow residents are having a debate, and we will make a final decision after this," he said. " I think we will find a compromise."

Those at the Saturday protest said they had little faith in City Hall.

"I thought that our city government would listen to the voices of those who love the pond," said Natalya Chernetsova, one of the organizers of the protest. "Now I understand that we are absolutely nobody."