An Interview in the Newspaper Sankt-Peterbugskiye
27 May 2004
- Houses with a good pedigree rarely change their owners. Yet suddenly
it has come out that the city is prepared to transfer more than two dozen
buildings that are architectural monuments to private hands. The news
disturbed the public. Mikhail Borisovich, a list of architectural monuments
that it is proposed to put up for sale has been made public. The Hermitage,
fortunately, is not among them, but what do you think of the idea itself?
- Itís worrying. In the 1920s, at the request of the Soviet government,
the Hermitage drew up a list of works that should not be sold under any
circumstances. That was the very list that was used when the finest pieces
from the museum were then disposed of.
Today the appearance of the list in question causes disquiet. A process
of selling off the nationís assets is underway. It has even become state
policy. Mineral resources, oil and forests are being sold and now monuments
have come up too. As happened with housing and communal services, St Petersburg
is being used as a test-bed for decision-making.
At the session of the State Council that was held here in the Hermitage
the privatization of some part of the cultural monuments was raised. The
government is prepared to discuss the issue. But the question of preservation
of monuments and the possibility of their sale was deferred at the request
of the Union of the Museums of Russia. The Union approached the Minister
of Culture, the Prime-Minister and the Duma with a request that museum
people be involved in the discussion of the matter. We are thinking of
ourselves: all museums are located in architectural monuments.
- The government has not yet taken a decision on the sale of monuments?
Why are people in our city talking about it as a fait accompli?
- Initially events developed along the proper lines. At a session of the
council for the preservation of the cultural heritage, Valentina Ivanovna
Matviyenko mentioned the sale of monuments as one of the means of solving
the problem of how to preserve them. But as soon as the discussion passed
on to other levels, people started talking exclusively about sales as
the only way out. A campaign began: letís get a move on, sell and collect
- Understandably everyone is worried about who will buy the buildings,
on what conditions and at what price?
- The most important thing is that it doesnít turn into an auction of
pledges. If that happens, palaces whose history alone makes them worth
a lot of money will end up almost free of charge in hands that are not
the best. They will get them for kopecks, for the promise to do something
for the city. And just try getting them back afterwards.
I worry when corporations are unwilling to lease these buildings. They
insist on having the rights of ownership, refusing to invest money in
restoration otherwise. We studied the leasing regulations when we took
on the General Staff building. The maximum term is 49 years, and then
the same term again. For a corporation or person intending to run a business
that term is long enough for any monument raised from the ruins to pay
for itself. To insist on ownership and refuse to lease is straightforward
blackmail. There are definite plans behind it: to buy and then resell.
We went through this in the 1920s when the government started by selling
items that were apparently quite inferior at international auctions. At
first that brought in money, but then it dried up. We started to hear:
nobody wants this stuff, bring out the masterpieces! That was the time
when we lost magnificent works from magnificent collections.
The process of buying and selling involving private individuals goes on
and will continue to do so. We have to keep our head, to be able to bargain,
to understand what we need.
- It seems to me that first and foremost we need to determine why
we are doing it: do we want to save the monuments or make money? Can those
two goals be combined?
- Our task is to preserve the monuments. To do so, we need a system.
A first step would be to divide the buildings up into categories, irrespective
of their value. There are monuments that we are restoring; there are those
that require conservation; others need to be adapted for use; some need
to be entirely recreatedÖ For example, Rastrelliís Wayside Palace, which
is lying disassembled somewhere. That could be given to a private person.
Let them recreate it and open it as a wedding palace, a restaurant or
whatever. Itís not hard to draw up a list like that, all the information
is already available.
Then, when we have divided up the monuments into categories, we can identify
the sources of finance that might be used for their restoration, conservation,
recreation, and so on. There are many such sources and they need thinking
about. There are the budgets, municipal and federal. There is the money
that cultural institutions earn. The Hermitage, Peterhof and Tsarskoye
Selo spend the greater part of the money they earn on restoration.
Lotteries bring in a considerable amount of money. And that money needs
to be used to specific ends. In Britain, for example, half the income
from lotteries goes to four or five good causes. With us one of them could
be the restoration of architectural monuments in St Petersburg.
There is one more source of funds - the tourist industry. It does not
invest a kopeck in the preservation of monuments. Perhaps we should introduce
a tax of one dollar for each tourist? And that money should go for the
restoration of specific buildings.
As soon as we draw up a table it will become clear which monuments we
are incapable of doing anything with. Itís at that point that we should
think about selling them to private individuals. Of course, discussion
of a sale should begin with a ďpassportĒ for each architectural monument.
That document should cover everything: whatís there, what isnít, what
can be altered, what canít be touchedÖ And any sale should impose strict
restrictions on the future owner.
The Committee for the State Use and Preservation of Monuments does have
such rules, but they are frequently broken. We see a dome appearing on
St Isaacís Square even against the committeeís wishes or that terrible
pavilion at the Konstantinovsky Palace that everyone who could spoke out
against. That means the mechanism isnít working. But we need to quickly
show that there are rules and that they do operate! And that they apply
to everyone with no exceptions, both museums and private individuals.
Everyone should know when they enter an architectural monument, even if
itís private property.
- Iím afraid thatís not likely to be possible.
- As I see it ownership of cultural monuments is restricted not only for
people, but for even for the state too. Nobody had the right to do just
what they feel like with monuments. They are a legacy passed down to us
and they need to be preserved and passed on to following generations.
Private property in this country was taken away by force at the time of
the revolution. Sometimes people say, ďThe Bolsheviks confiscated.Ē Our
state - that is to say, we - stripped private individuals of their property
and gave it over to meet common needs. Thatís not very elegantly put,
but, on the other hand, correct. As soon as we want to extract an income
from that property, though, a moral aspect comes into play.
Our task is not to earn money from the monuments, but to preserve them.
Doing so requires a special, many-sided, open and aboveboard approach.
Selling is not the key to solving the problem, but just one of the methods.
- While we are working out a mechanism to save them, the monuments
continue to decay and go to ruin.
- A mechanism wouldnít take long to devise, though, a matter of a
few months. There are monuments that require restoration and there are
sources of finance. There are those that will be left without sources.
Letís think about long-term leases and about ways of imposing obligations
on the lease-holders.
We need to seek out people who can be trusted, who arenít going to disappear
overnight. We can think about foreigners and the former owners of those
buildings. Itís not as if the property is going to leave the city!
There is a wide spectrum of issues and possibilities that need to be discussed.
When we only talk about selling everyone gets in a panic. That happens
because the cultural monuments are all the national assets we have left.
All the rest has ceased to be the property of the state.
And, it seems to me, we are coming to understand ever more clearly what
the state has forgotten - that it should preserve that property and not
think about how best to dispose of it. We need a many-sided programme
for the preservation of monuments. Then the question of private ownership
will take its place within it and cease to be the main issue.
- Itís the final act to sell Grandmaís ring when you havenít got enough
money to survive to payday.
- The question of when itís all right to sell the family silver is
one of principle. All the more so in our case when what we are talking
about are not quite family heirlooms. We are justified in parting with
them only in critical situations. That means we should prove to ourselves
that the situation is critical and that there is no alternative.
I think itís a good thing that there is such active discussion going on
now. Itís an attempt to sound to some extent peopleís mood and to identify
alternative solutions to the problem. After all, the issue is how to preserve
the monuments and not whether or not they should be sold.
The list of architectural monuments proposed for sale by the St Petersburg
The palace of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich (122 Moika Embankment)
The mansion of A.D. Sheremetev (18 Shpalernaya Street)
The country house of the Viazemskys (Osinovaya Roshcha)
The Private Dacha palace and park ensemble (Petrodvorets)
The dacha of Zinaida Yusupova with the gardenerís house (Pushkin)
The stables block of the Znamenka estate (Petrodvorets)
Alexander Bezborodkoís dacha (40 Sverdlovskaya Embankment)
Dacha (Officerís Assembly) (Zelenogorsk)
The country house of the Lanskois (4 Prospekt Engelsa)
The Durnovo dacha (22 Sverdlovskaya Embankment)
Vazhevskayaís dacha (Kurort)
Goldenovís dacha (Kurort)
The main house (ďWhite DachaĒ) and Gothic House on the Zubovsí Otrada
Gostiny Dvor (Kronstadt)
The municipal water-tower (Kronstadt)
The 3rd Southern Fort (former Fort Miliutin) (Kronstadt)
Fort Totleben (Kronstadt)
Shanets coastal fort (western end of Kotlin Island)
The 4th Northern Battery (Fort Zverev) (Gulf of Finland)
5th Northern Battery (Gulf of Finland)
2nd Northern Battery (Gulf of Finland)
The dacha of Yu. Benois (17 Tikhoretsky Prospekt)
The house of the Zotovs (a family of fishing magnates) (5 Rybatsky Prospekt)
The barracks complex of the 6th Guards Invalids Company and the houses
of the trainee gardeners (Lomonosov)
The Udelnoye College (36 Fermskoye Chaussee)