"The new governor has the task of deciding
how to preserve Saint Petersburgís uniqueness"
Moscow 30 August INTERFAX.RU – Leadership changes in the northern capital: Georgy Poltavchenko is the new governor. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage and honorary citizen of Saint Petersburg, talked about his opinions on the processes taking place in the city, on elections and on the problems of Saint Petersburg in an interview with Interfax.
- Mikhail Borisovich, what do you think about the political change in Saint Petersburg and the mechanism of this change?
- I think the change went extremely well. I think that this strange idea "leave the position, accept the position" is actually just what we need. The change of power in Saint Petersburg is an example of what will and could happen in our country in the future.
There are two sides to this. On the one hand, a certain stability was maintained and the transition from one governor to the other passed quietly with citizensí opinions actually being taken into account. Peopleís opinions are not reflected in elections, which are always a farce and ludicrous events, but... It is clear that Valentina Matvienko was a fantastic governor, maybe the best we have had. However, there were a number of conflicts that needed resolving, which arose precisely because she was a very good and active governor. Problems arose which are unusual in a left field.
There were some difficulties, which were wonderfully resolved by a quiet transition of power without any troubles or any noise and scandals which our country can now do without.
This is a positive feature, however, there are two negative ones. Firstly, I believe that it was unworthy, absolutely unworthy of our city, when a person, a woman, leaves her position (moreover in an elegant manner, as you donít like her, she was replaced, although understanding that there were successes as well as certain difficulties), when all of a sudden all kinds of dirt is thrown, which is totally indecent for Saint Petersburg. Thatís all, there is a solution. Maybe, somebody thinks that this solution is inconvenient, too quiet and peaceful, maybe thatís what they donít like. However, I think that it is disgraceful that absolutely unfair things have been said. Moreover, annoyances were clearly expressed and a good solution was found.
What happened to Valentina Matvienko is exactly what happens in elections. Elections are generally farces. No elections are good, they are just a way of changing power. There are always arguments, competition, tricks.
- Do you mean elections at all levels?
- Yes, I think that all elections at all levels, apart from presidential elections. Because direct presidential elections are one thing, and indirect, smaller elections are cunning schemes. Elections are far from the best way of changing power and of determining who should represent the people. Maybe, there are no other ways. But we have to understand, there are always lots of things which are usually called "political technology", different tricks which everybody uses.
And this can be seen in the municipal elections. Suddenly, people tried to turn these elections, which should have just been a formality, into some kind of fight, a rehearsal for a battle, letís stop her getting elected etc. I could understand if it was a Presidential or State Duma election. As a result we found a way to get over this. The people conducting these elections turned out to be cleverer and made it impossible to make a big song and dance about these elections.
Saint Petersburg showed several examples and dangers which could happen. Because there are dangers. We need quiet, look at the whole world, look at whatís happening in the Middle East. We need to be careful and find ways of maintaining stability. Life in Saint Petersburg needs to be quiet, stable and to improve, and should in no way get worse. There are always options worse than we have.
-What are the main problems in Saint Petersburg, in your opinion, which the new city head will have to deal with first?
- I think that there is a global problem, the one that Valentina Ivanovna faced. The city began to literally live an active economic life. Money came into the city and big projects appeared. This is all very good, very important. The city budget really increased several fold. But when money arrives, money people, our Russian capitalists, immediately start to have big demands. The demands are over the top. Whether it is the desire to build the Gazprom tower, or the desire to join with Lenfilm, or something else. This happens because our capitalists, actually probably all, are greedy.
Therefore, the problem is universal, how to reconcile the fact that we need money with what we have to give for this money. What is possible and what is not is the main question.
Preservation of the city centre is of course still one of the main problems. Money needs to come into the city and money needs to work for the city. At the same time money needs to be subordinate. Its needs to obey the needs of the city, and not the needs of money itself.
A compromise needs to be found, but so far we havenít found one. Because we are talking about preserving the cityís uniqueness. Not just about preserving the historic centre, houses, but about the cityís uniqueness. As soon as we lose it we lose 50% of our attractiveness, in particular economic.
This is a complex problem, and Valentina Ivanovna resolved it very cleverly, without being afraid of any stones lying underwater or above. And the new governor has to decide how to preserve the cityís uniqueness, while developing it along a general line, as large cities should develop.
- You mentioned Lenfilm. What do you think about the story of it merging with Russian World Studios?
- On the one hand, I think, there needs to be found a way of making state studios non-loss making. But there is another side to this. A whole range of things can not make a profit. Therefore, it needs to be clearly established what the state should preserve. Some brands should be preserved, some symbols should be preserved which are part of the uniqueness of this city, this state.
Therefore, Lenfilm should be preserved as a state centre, it could possibly be smaller than now, but it could become a kind of incubator where great directors are grown and later they, their students, can work in different places.
I donít think that the proposed option is very suitable, because it just appears to be ordinary privatisation, a new wave of privatisation. If we reach the point where we need to privatise Lenfilm, when there is no other choice, then things are not very good at at all.
This is a serious problem. How to deal with state property which is of, as well as economic, symbolic value. How to understand the difference between symbolic and economic things, this is very important. Because the symbolic is spiritual. We are used to shouting that spiritual things are just in church, well then, the symbolic is spiritual.
Lenfilm is part of Saint Petersburgís soul, just like the Mariinsky Theatre, the Hermitage, the University... We have a symbol, this symbol should always be protected from its fate being decided by economic factors. Especially as our economic criteria and factors are 200% profit and not 6% like in the normal world.
Saint Petersburgís strong role in the country and in the cultural, political and spiritual sphere needs to be preserved. Not only preserved but multiplied.
- Letís return to the topic of the transition of power in Saint Petersburg, what would you like to wish the new governor?
- I think we can wish him, at least initially, that the whole city unites and helps him, which will be very difficult as we are approaching the election period.
I would wish him that there is no friction, that everyone, even those who have doubts about him, give him the opportunity to work quietly and show quietly what he can do and how. Because continuity, quiet work are needed. There are many things which need doing and if we get angry, then nothing will get done. Roofs will leak, rain will pour through the roofs, icicles will fall.....
- Are you worried that because of the change in governor the process of finding a building for the Heraldry Museum will be be delayed?
- We arenít looking for any buildings. The idea of a Museum of Heraldry is not related to finding a building. The problem arose, when the Stock Exchange on the Spit of Vasilievsky Island was vacated and it was understood that a normal stock exchange is not needed, there is no need for such a building, so what to do with this building.
Then we suggested creating a Museum of Heraldry. We could take it and fix it up. This would have great political, symbolic and spiritual value and could well be economically profitable.
But we have already been rejected, so there is a discussion which, I think, will continue with the new governor.
We have a more serious issue, preparations for the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage. What the Hermitage will give to the city for its 250th anniversary. And thereís the Stock Exchange. We donít need the Stock Exchange, but the Stock Exchange needs to be given to the city. It needs it be turned into something good, not a guest house or a restaurant or night club.
We put forward our proposal. We also have other options. We suggested creating a museum of the 19th and 20th Century in the Eastern wing of the General Staff building, an amazing new space which will transform Palace Square.
We are creating a present for the city, a completely new storage facility, this is a new stage. We have opened a new storage facility and removed the problem of reserve stock. Now we are thinking about its third phase. We have proposed creating a Guardís Museum in the Guard headquarters building. So we are preparing a set of presents, but we need help to deliver them.
Our aim is to increase the value of museums in the life of the city, country and world. There are other tasks, and other than Hermitage ones, we have the task of protection. Protection of the Hermitage, because there is Lenfilm, someone thought, letís buy Lenfilm. It is clear that no one is trying to buy the Hermitage today, but it can happen anytime.
Together with the governor we will study the most important issue, protection of cultural rights. Cultural rights are in general a special category of rights. Dmitry Likhachev talked about this. These rights have specifics which should be taken into account. They donít coincide with property rights or human rights, they are special rights.
Another task we have as a museum is to protect academic science. The museums should have science, a museum is a scientific establishment. A museum is science, after all it doesnít show the public "things from the cupboard", but the result of its scientific activities.
This is a whole range of things, and we hope that our governor will be a partner. I think that is what will happen. I have known Georgy Poltavchenko for a long time and I have a very high opinion of him.
- How did you meet? What impression did he leave?
- I canít remember how we met, it was so long ago. We didnít see each other very often. We often met in Saint Petersburg and then in Moscow, because, among other things, we had to get his advice on several issues related to culture and cultural heritage. There is the Saint Andrew Prize, an international award presented by the Saint Andrew Foundation I am a laureate, he is a laureate and laureates are always meeting, there is a certain brotherhood with certain common interests, I would say cultural and patriotic. So I have often met Georgy Poltavchenko.
He is a real officer, and we have many people from state security. It is clear that this person began with combative matters. Pulkovo, the tax police, this is a real education. So this person seems to me to be very strong and reserved, which can also be good, without displaying superfluous emotions. He is very level headed and doesnít speak off the top of his head. Thatís my opinion.
- Please tell us how preparations for the Hermitageís 250th anniversary in 2014 are going.
- We need to think about increasing the Hermitageís city role on Palace Square. The General Staff building will be some kind of city forum on the first floor, with all kinds of passages open to bring the square to life. The life of the square doesnít lie in placing different buildings, hosting rock concerts, but in having people moving about it. Through the General Staff, along the Small Hermitage, we will open it and make exhibition halls.
The second important issue is the storage facility. This is all innovation. We are not modernising the Hermitage, it was modernised long ago, it is one of the most modern museums in the world as regards equipment. We are innovating. This is a city role, turning to modern art as a dialogue with old art. Currently, we are now holding an exhibition of Antony Gormley, a modern British sculptor, in the halls of ancient art. All together this makes something unusual, this is our policy with modern art.
- You mentioned the Small Hermitage building. Some time ago, the condition of the Atlantes statues was examined, and this showed that they were not very well preserved. Are there any plans to restore the statues?
- We want to restore them, but unfortunately there is no one able to restore them. So there is no great rush. They are not in a terrible condition, but little cracks keep appearing. Such is our weather.
We had several proposals from restorers who deal with such things, but our restorers rejected them all, and they canít suggest anything at the moment either. But itís not necessary yet. The most important thing we can do now is to study them very carefully. Research is already being carried out. This has already shown that the main problem is that the mobility and flexibility of the whole architectural structure has been damaged. The plank which lies on the Atlantes statues first moved slightly. And then it was fixed like that so it didnít move. As it doesnít move it presses on the Atlantes, and this can cause cracks. This pressure needs to be removed and monitored, carefully studied and then gradually develop a way of fixing them. They are not collapsing, but this needs to be done, and will take some time, effort and money.
Original material at http://www.interfax.ru/print.asp?sec=1483&id=205723