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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rally Shows Obstacles Facing Preservationists

For MTA resident telling the city, "Don't cleanse old Moscow of old Muscovites."
The protest on a sunny Pushkin Square last Thursday was large enough to draw the attention of young couples who otherwise acted as though they were the only people in the world, but small enough that some passersby wandered through without realizing it was a protest at all.

Activists came to draw attention to the destruction of historical buildings and the eviction of longtime residents from the city center. But for several of them, the meager turnout reflected the difficulty of opposing a trend driven by enormous financial incentives and the virtual non-enforcement of preservation laws.

The building at the center of the protest was 26 Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa, a storied 18th-century apartment house that is home to Stanislavskogo 2, the city's first family-owned restaurant. The building was slated for demolition by the Neo development company last year, but the protests and court battles of a small group of remaining residents have preserved it thus far.

Neo initially attempted to buy out Stanislavskogo 2's owners, the mother-daughter team of Rosalie and Emily Korodzievskaya. When the pair refused to give up the restaurant, which they have run together since 1989, the developer took them to arbitrage court to contest their 2002 certificate of ownership. The Korodzievskayas have won suits at the first two levels of the court, but Neo continues to appeal.

Sergei Rodin, general director of the architectural firm Neo has employed for the project, said that the fate of the building was currently under consideration, and denied there were imminent plans to tear it down.

Wearing a sign that said "The City Center Is Our Kosovo," building resident Sergei Dvoryantsev said that the city administration was disregarding the rights of residents in order to profit from new development.

"The Department of Housing Policy continues to use the courts to forcefully evict residents from the center to the outskirts without their consent," Dvoryantsev said. He is fighting in court to prevent his family from being moved to an apartment in the city's eastern Perovo neighborhood.

The Department of Housing Policy did not respond to a request for comment faxed over the weekend.

City law allows the transfer of renters out of their present residence if it is designated avariiny, or legally uninhabitable. In November 2002, the city gave this status to the Stanislavskogo 2 building -- in spite of its previous designation as a protected historical monument.

Another speaker, Pavel Basanets, said that he saw the battle to preserve Moscow's architectural heritage as a losing one, but had come to speak out with a larger goal in mind.

"We can only achieve victory in maybe 5 percent of these cases, but our main task is to organize people," Basanets said. "People don't believe that anything can change. We need to unite -- not just around housing, but during Duma and presidential elections as well."

At a small post-protest gathering at Stanislavskogo 2, Rosalie Korodzievskaya rejected the official conclusion that the building was uninhabitable. "We had it inspected back before we opened the restaurant," she said. "The wood was solid, clean, dry. Two hundred years old and there was no rot at all. They made good buildings back then."