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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-Minister's Book on Disappearing Moscow

MTThe Alfa-Arbat Center has replaced a three-story building from the mid-19th century on Arbatskaya Ploshchad in downtown Moscow, the book says.
When Mayor Yury Luzhkov turned 70, a huge birthday party was thrown in his honor in one of the most famous buildings to have suffered architecturally during his reign.

President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and much of the government turned up for the Sept. 21 party, many with presents in hand. A truck reportedly was needed to carry away the presents from the 19th-century Central Manezh Exhibition Hall, which was gutted by a fire in 2004 and controversially restored less than one year later.

One present unlikely to have been included among the gifts was a new book published by a former government member that is uncompromising in its criticism of the disappearance of hundreds of historical buildings under Luzhkov.

"A Chronicle of the Destruction of Old Moscow, 1990-2005," published by former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, contains a scrupulous list of 650 buildings that have disappeared from Moscow in the past 15 years. Each building, listed in alphabetical order by street, comes with a short history of its life and death.

"It's obvious that under the cover of talk about social good and progress, a crime has been carried out, (a moral one at least,) in relation to our heritage," Fyodorov says in his prologue to the book.

"Those who can't understand it are only those people who don't consider Moscow their motherland ... [and] naively think that the Russian Turkish style of new Moscow architecture is a sign of progress."

Fyodorov said by telephone that he funded the book out of his own pocket because he had fond memories of old Moscow and his childhood in the Ostozhenka area and wanted to show his disgust at the changes.

Among the first buildings mentioned in the book is a neat, three-story building that was built in the mid-19th century on Arbatskaya Ploshchad and survived until the start of the 21st century. Then nearby land was rented out to Investproyekt, which went on to build the Alfa-Arbat Center, the book said.

"At first there were plans to build to the size of the Praga restaurant ... but in the process the work on the building 'grew' and it overwhelmed the square and half of the Arbat itself," the book said.

Despite being in a preservation zone, the house was not protected and "under the care of the city, it was left to rot" and was knocked down, it said.

The book lists the names of those who signed demolition documents, the numbers of the documents and how the city found ways around the law to knock down the buildings.

About 200 of the buildings mentioned are accompanied by photographs from the Shchusev Museum of Architecture. There is little information and no images for many of the other buildings.

Most of the book was written by two journalists, Konstantin Mikhailov and Rustam Rakhmatullin, who have tracked and investigated the destruction of Moscow separately for more than a decade.

"Every loss for me is a personal blow," Mikhailov said. "The book was an attempt to tell society ... it is a whole system constructed to destroy the old" Moscow.

"The city talks about becoming more European and says this is for the good of the city," he said. "This is to show what is happening in reality."

In the book's introduction, titled "The Lessons of the Moscow Pogrom," Mikhailov details the long history of cultural vandalism and how buildings were knocked down under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

"Everything changes in our country: the government, the Constitution, slogans," he writes. "The only thing that doesn't change is how we deal with our cultural heritage."