Several hundred students and locals gathered at Moscow State University last weekend to protest the construction of a gigantic statue of 10th century ruler Saint Vladimir atop one of city's highest points.
Moscow's Sparrow Hills rise above the right bank of the Moskva River, abutting the Moscow State University campus, and are famed for offering a sweeping panoramic view of the Russian capital. If the Ministry of Culture and the Russian Orthodox Church have their way, the hills may also become known for an 82-foot-tall statue honoring a leading religious figure from Russian history.
St. Vladimir, the grand prince of Kievan Rus who converted to Christianity on behalf of all of Russia in 988, has become a favored historical figure in recent years for a Kremlin increasingly close to the Russian Orthodox Chruch. Following Russia's annexation of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin stressed the peninsula's “sacral importance” to Russia as the place where Grand Prince Vladimir was baptized before bringing Christianity to Rus. The Russian government plans to spend about $20 million commemorating St. Vladimir this year, which is the thousand-year anniversary of his death, RBC has reported.
Планируемый памятник князю Владимиру. Высота памятника составит ~ 24,32 метра, общий вес монумента ~ около 330 тонн. pic.twitter.com/n3r1EfEhPC
— ХитрыйЁж (@SlySlyHedgehog) May 28, 2015
The planned monument to Vladimir the Great. The height is 24.32 meters [about 80 feet], and the total weight is roughly 330 metric tons [more than 727,000 pounds].
Many Muscovites have balked at the idea of raising a towering statue of Prince Vladimir atop Sparrow Hills, however. More than 64,000 have signed a petition calling on the city to cancel the project and organize the public selection of a more appropriate spot for the new statue.
The petition advances two primary concerns with the current plan. First, the petition argues that the statue would threaten public safety because Sparrow Hills is a geologically unstable area, and any major construction could cause landslides that would damage the surrounding area and injure anyone there. The petition also asserts that the project contradicts federal and regional legislation on the protection of cultural heritage, violates environmental laws, and neglects statutory procedures for the inclusion of local citizens in decision-making about urban planning.
The construction site for the statue, which appeared during the last week of May, has been the scene of numerous pickets and protests this summer. On June 5, a small crowd of students and locals who had gathered in opposition to the statue were joined by roughly the same number of Night Wolves bikers and orthodox activists from the group Forty by Forty in support of it.
At the protest, a Moscow State student opposed to the statue explained some of her camp's concerns to TV Rain, which also interviewed a Christian Orthodox activist who stressed the need to honor Russia's religious history (despite displaying a shaky understanding of it himself) while accusing all those opposed to the statue of being supporters of “homosexual rights.”
Many Muscovites have also picketed the construction site, including Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer who works at Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation. Sobol says she's also filed official statements with the relevant authorities about various legal violations associated with the construction.
— Соболь Любовь (@SobolLubov) June 17, 2015
While we are silent, the authorities will continue to plunder #[We'reProtectingSparrowHills]
In an apparent win for the opponents of the Sparrow Hills plan, city officials announced on June 9 that the location of the statue would be put under review at the next Moscow City Duma session, on July 14. This decision came after the Russian Military-Historical Society, which is sponsoring the project, proposed a review due to “risks” associated with the Sparrow Hills location. New sites under consideration for the statue reportedly include Europe Square.
“It's possible that this is only a feint to placate the people and the statue will still be built, but maybe the location will actually be changed,” Lyubov Sobol told RuNet Echo. “I think the latter is likely. The authorities are very afraid that opposition leaders will join with the local protests. The authorities are afraid to be in the minority, looking like freaks who no one supports, and are therefore trying to ‘hush up’ this situation any way they can,” Sobol continued, citing successful citizen efforts to save the historic Shukhov radio tower from demolition last year as a possible parallel. “I have hope we will win,” she said.
Despite the pause for review, however, the Sparrow Hills construction site has not been dismantled. In fact, the mayor's office has stated that work to strengthen the slope in the area on Sparrow Hills where the statue was to be built will continue regardless of the ultimate location of the statue, and has nothing to do with the statue, in fact. On her blog, Sobol argues that this is a blatant ploy by contractors to retain the millions of dollars originally allocated for this work when the statue was to be built there.
Meanwhile, Muscovites continue their efforts to protect Sparrow Hills. A protest earlier this week attracted a small crowd of locals, scientists, city deputies, and apparently even some bikers, who complained that the Night Wolves’ recent antics have been discrediting all motorcycle enthusiasts.
— Соболь Любовь (@SobolLubov) June 23, 2015
Bikers have joined the local protest to protect Sparrow Hills
It has even become fashionable for young Muscovites arriving to take pictures at a scenic lookout point, now blocked by the construction site, to join the campaign.
— Николай Ляскин (@nlyaskin) June 18, 2015
A line for photos with the poster in support of #ЗащитимВоробьевыГоры [#We'reProtectingSparrowHills]