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Soviet-style building rash killing old Moscow-group

MOSCOW, July 22 (Reuters) - Moscow city officials are employing the brutal methods of their Soviet predecessors to develop a rash of buildings that are destroying the Russian capital's historic heritage, a pressure group said in its latest report published on Wednesday.

Moscow landmarks under threat include The Bolshoi Theatre, Mayakovskaya metro station and monuments of the avante-garde, a survey by the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS) said.

MAPS, set up in 2004 following the demolition of two major Moscow landmarks -- the Moskva Hotel and Voyentorg department store -- said that due to public awareness none of the buildings listed in its 2007 report had been condemned to be demolished.

"But this turned out to be only a temporary reprieve for the city's heritage. Since the beginning of 2008 numerous other buildings have been destroyed outright or suffered major losses to their original fabric," said Edmund Harris, chief editor of the report.

"The scale of destruction is almost comparable to that of the 1930s-1960s, the difference being that today what is under attack is those few structures that were lucky enough to survive Stalin and Khrushchev's purges."

Demolishing old Moscow, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin would not hesitate to splurge state funds on giant and pompous high-rise buildings to accommodate ministries or house the Soviet elite.

Stalin's extravagance, intended to immortalise "the capital of workers and peasants", was followed by the dreary style of Nikita Khrushchev who built the cavernous, steel-and-iron Palace of Congresses amidst the centuries-old Byzantine environment of the Kremlin's onion-shaped church domes and crenellated walls.


"Today, there is no other capital city in peace-time Europe that is being subjected to such devastation for the sake of earning a fast megabuck," the report concluded.

Despite the hypocrisy and tough state control of communist rule, many buildings constructed under Stalin, Khrushchev and then during the "stagnation period" of Leonid Brezhnev are still kindly remembered by nostalgic Muscovites.

"The outcry caused by the demolition of the Hotel Moskva and the reconstruction of Children's World (department store) is a testament to the affection and esteem in which Stalin-period buildings are held by Muscovites," wrote Calder Loth of SAVE Europe's Heritage.

Art historian Anna Bronovitskaya, who is associate professor of the Moscow Architectural Institute, said that without buildings erected under Khrushchev and Brezhnev "Moscow would be all the poorer".

Facing a barrage of criticism from experts and ordinary Muscovites alike, officials say they knock down old buildings and erect new ones to improve safety and modernise the city. Moscow's powerful mayor Yuri Luzhkov, nicknamed "The Lord of the Rings" for pumping billions of dollars to build gigantic transport ring roads, has overseen the construction of office sky-scrapers overshadowing the city's elegant palaces, churches and old single-storey houses.

"An all-round lowering of standards, the triumph of vandalism and the obstruction of every last vacant space on the skyline is the legacy that the last decade has bequeathed to Moscow," art historian Nataliya Bronovitskaya said.
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