Open conflict in Moscow over building church in park



Around 500 participants and observers were counted in the evening of 9 July by a correspondent at a rally approved by the authorities in the Torfyanka Park of Moscow, which is located in the Losiny Island district of the Northeast Administrative District (SVAO). The rally lasted two hours, from 19.00 to 21.00. Speakers included deputies of the State Duma of the RF, the Moscow City Duma, and municipal assemblies, civilian activists, and representatives of political parties. The result of the rally was the adoption of a resolution demanding immediate fulfillment of the injunction by the prosecutor's office and the order of the prefect of SVAO regarding demolition of the structures erected in the park by representatives of RPTsMP and also expressing lack of confidence in local authorities.


The stand-off in Torfyanka has continued since 18 June, when representatives of RPTsMP and the construction companies they hired tried to bring building materials into the park and begin excavation. After several days a pit was dug by order of Patriarch Kirill and on the strong recommendation of Moscow's mayor, although the fence, memorial cross, carts, and toilet remained on territory controlled by the "Forty Forties" movement and inaccessible to local residents for a visit.


While the rally was being conducted on the territory fenced by activists of RPTsMP, about 100 persons also gathered in the Torfyanka Park, mainly athletically built men and also participants from the military activity in the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic in uniform like that of cossacks. They watched the rally in silence, although about 40 minutes later from the start, they unfurled white umbrellas and raised over their heads pieces of white paper showing some kind of symbol that took pictures from a pilotless drone. At the same time, on the roof of nearby high rises a giant banner was unfurled saying "Losinka residents for the church."  Speakers from the platform of the rally supported this banner, noting at the same time that the church should be located outside the park on territory where construction is permitted by law.


The protesters and the RPTsMP activists were separated by several dozen policemen, and there were paddy wagons in the vicinity, but a direct conflict between proponents and opponents of construction did not occur. Some policemen were deployed in nearby yards.


"Everything happened peacefully; we were divided into different camps and police and OMON watched what was happening," a local resident, Yulia, told MK. "Those who were speaking out against the church were brought to specially arranged structures in the park. Those who were 'for' (cossacks, activists of "Forty Forties," and some grannies) went to their own 'pen.' We are advocating for a park with a church. And there are many more of us. Our territory was tightly filled. There were no provocations, although the atmosphere retained a glow."


On the morning of 9 July, in their blog, activists of the "Forty Forties" movement called Orthodox Russians to unite with them. "The question is being decided in what kind of country our children will live!!!," they wrote. "In a country where there will be happy, undivided, large families and where parents will be called Papa and Mama, and not Parent 1 and Parent 2, and where our motherland will be called Great Russia, and not a 'stinking outhouse'? This will happen if we have many churches and if the people finally have a concept of sin. Or do we want to wallow in a drug and alcohol frenzy and live alongside single mothers, where for every 100 registered marriages there are 80 divorces, and where every year we kill 4 million of our children in an abortion frenzy and live in a country torn apart by sins?"  (tr. by PDS, posted 9 July 2015)



How Moscow is being covered with church buildings and why this angers local residents

by Daria Poligaeva

The Village, 9 July 2015


This summer a confrontation in the spirit of the struggle for Khimki Forest began in the Losiny Island district of Moscow: in Torfyanka Park local residents acted against the construction of a church building. Construction of the church in the district began after public hearings, whose participants supposedly supported the construction. However the protesters say that the hearings were falsified: the discussion was in secret and residents of the district were not invited to it. The struggle between Orthodox activists and defenders of the park, who set up a tent camp, went on for several days and nights. Patriarch Kirill was compelled to intervene in the situation, after which the construction was suspended by decision of a court. There have been several such cases in Moscow. The Village investigated how churches are built in the city and why many do not like it.


"We lack a clinic and the maternity hospital in Torfyanka was closed and pregnant women are forced to travel to Bibirevo. Although the church is within walking distance," Muscovite Natalia throws up her hands. In the park of her native district of Rostokino, a church for 500 parishioners is now being built. Opponents of the construction say that the church is being erected on specially protected natural territory. Any construction in such a place is prohibited by law, but due to an order of the government of Moscow, construction of the church became possible, and now the decision of the authorities is being challenged by residents of the district in Moscow City Court.


Natalia explains that at one of the first sessions the judge wanted to know: "How does the church bother you?" Parishioner Vladimir Chirkov poses the same question. He says that a territory of 0.36 hectares, or about 2% of the Rostokino park zone was allotted for construction. Liubov says that there already are two churches in Rostokino, but they cannot accommodate all comers: "It happened that it was impossible to stand in the Tikhvin church and one could not even get into the Leonov church on a feast day."


This story is typical for Moscow, where for several years now the program of "200 Churches" has been implemented. The plan was approved by Yury Luzhkov back in 2009. Not long before his retirement the mayor promised Patriarch Kirill to build churches "so that there will be no place where the house of God is not within walking distance." The primate pointed out that the city needs about 600 churches, but in the end the city government and the RPTs came down to a figure of 200 churches. Opponents of the program have already named it "200 fewer parks and gardens." In five years of work, the program has built 17 churches in the city and another three in new Moscow. According to information of the director of the "For the park" movement of residents of the Khodynka district, Oleg Larin, approximately half the cases of such construction evoke protests of local residents.


The program is overseen by a former deputy and colleague of Yury Luzhkov and now a deputy of the State Duma, Vladimir Resin. He himself acknowledges that "there are disagreements with the public." The politician says that in all the time of the program, there were 27 instances when it was necessary to reject plans for construction of a church on proposed parcels. "We are not fighting with our people," Resin assures. This spring, in company with priests, he surveyed the construction in Rostokino. Opponents of the construction met the politician with posters "Our park was stolen" and "Help, Vladimir Iosifovich—You are from Rostokino."


Where churches are built


As a rule, churches are built on the territory of parks. This provokes the anger of local residents: people are unhappy about the reduction of a green zone in their district. This happened also in Ostankino. In 2013 a garden was landscaped there. "We put in benches, people began to relax, grandmothers left their lobbies," Ostankino resident Valentina Bakulina recalls. Soon the local newspaper wrote that it was planned to build a church in the garden within the framework of the "200 Churches" program. "At one time we viewed a place where now stands a church and a handful of worshippers and a priest. Representatives of the RPTs simply came over the course of six months on Sundays at 3 p.m. So the populace got used to the fact that this territory now belongs to them," Bakulina is sure. Priest Aleksei Yakovlev is the rector of the church in Ostankino. He says that there is nowhere else in Moscow to build a church. "There is very little space in the city. In order to build a new building, usually a previous one is torn down and we cannot act that way. For building supermarkets everybody reacts calmly, but building a church, don't you see, is impossible," Yakovlev says in outrage.


The chairman of the board of the foundation "Support for construction of churches of the city of Moscow," Archbishop of Egoriev Mark, maintains that in the majority of cases churches are not being built in parks and gardens, but on abandoned and undeveloped parcels of city land. Cases of construction in green zones of Moscow he explains by the fact that for churches "since ancient times the most beautiful and scenic places are selected." In comments for The Village the archbishop also added that parishioners always landscape the new territory, and in the event that during construction trees were cut down, greenery is restored elsewhere in the park. "The territory is always well lit. Mamas and children can relax peacefully without danger of meeting here an alcoholic or homeless person."


A researcher of the Higher School of Urban Studies, Petr Ivanov, considers that parks are not the best place for churches. He suggests building new churches in industrial zones, "trying not to build them on people's heads." In response to a question whether this is too far for parishioners, the expert notes: "Nowhere will ever be too far for believers." Ivanov is sure that a church should be built far from residences because of bell ringing.


Defenders of parks usually are concerned that after construction of a church, the church yard will become a place that is not for everybody. "A park should be inviolate territory, where there are atheists, Orthodox, Muslims, grandmothers, grandfathers, dogs and cats," Rostokino resident Natalia thinks. Thus the territory occupied by the church in the Dzhamgarov Park became closed. The confrontation between builders and activists began six months back, although the church still was built and "surrounded with a deaf fence," local resident Yulia Trofimova explains. "My friends tried to go there, but they couldn't. I did not see one familiar face near the church. It was built for a narrow circle of people," Trifimov is sure.


Violations during construction


Lawyers say that one should not build up parks: "According to the General Plan of Moscow, a park belongs to a natural and green territory of general use, and also to a zone of protected natural landscape. One should not build anything there at all," explains Ivan Medvedev, a defender of the protesting residents of the Losiny Island district. Medvedev says that to receive permission for construction, usually public hearings are conducted at which the draft of planning for the territory is confirmed. Often public discussions are conducted in secret, without informing local residents.


This happened, the lawyer says, in the case of the construction of the church in Torfyanka. Hearing participants supposedly approved constructing the church in the park, and the government adopted an order for revising the plan of the territory. The document changed the boundaries of the park: a portion of its space was allotted for construction of the church complex. Local residents explain that they knew nothing about the discussions being conducted. Now they are challenging the results of the hearings in court. The foundation "Support the construction of churches in the city of Moscow" notes that permission for construction of each building is issued on the basis of a decision of the Moscow government. Parcels of a green zone which are allocated for construction are not removed from the composition of the natural complex but only the mode of the use of the land.


Granting permission for construction in parks the protesters call a dangerous precedent. Rostokino resident Natalia is sure that widespread construction of churches in parks is a "raider's seizure of precious Moscow land." "On the example of the '200 Churches' program, the seizure of parcels from a natural complex has been developed. This method can be used also for construction of other buildings," Oleg Larin thinks. In his native district, in Khodynka, a church is also being built close to a park. Local residents suggest that in the future owners will take a part of the green territory for themselves and build additional structures.


Construction of church buildings in Khodynka began in 2012, when a cross and platform for prayer were built. Residents considered the actions illegal and wrote hundreds of appeals, demanding demolition of the structure. But last year on the site of a former landing strip a wooden church was built. Oleg Larin maintains that it was without permission for construction and arrangement of the rights to the parcel of land. Agencies of government assure that the construction is temporary and permission is not necessary for it. However in recent months near the wooden church another large church is being built. Capital authorities have already ruled this structure illegal.


However the foundation "Support for construction of churches" maintains that incidents of illegal construction have not been officially confirmed. They want to continue the construction of the church of Saint Sergius of Radonezh there and finish it by 2017. Archbishop Mark explains the construction of two nearby church buildings as: "Prior to the construction of the main stone church on the parcel, a small chapel was built so that local residents could participate in the liturgical life of the parish sooner." In response to this, Oleg Larin throws up his hands: "Why is it necessary for there to be two churches next to each other? It is cramped and impossible to accommodate all comers."


Are there enough churches for Muscovites?


Representatives of city hall and the RPTs maintain that there is a shortage of churches in Moscow. "Go down into the metro on Sunday morning," Sergei Sobianin said. "You will surely see people with Orthodox prayer books in their hands, who are forced to get up before dawn in order to get to church." Patriarch Kirill is even more radical in his judgments. He consider that even the program of the construction of churches will not fix the situation. "200 churches is a drop in the bucket," the primate is sure.


"Previously Moscow was ten times smaller and there were twice as many churches in it. On average the statistics for Russia are such: for one church there are 35,000 people. But in Moscow for one church there are 80,000," Priest Aleksei Yakovlev calculates. Opponents of widespread church construction note that not all residents of Moscow are believers. "Originally the program was called '600 churches in Moscow.' The entire population of Moscow was divided into the existing churches. But nobody thinks about the fact that people of various confessions live in the city," resident of the Ostankino district Valentina Bakulina retorts. Urbanist Petr Ivanov is opposed to the very idea of the typical churches. He says that they have no historical value: "When we build 200 churches, we are thinking only about how to build them more simply."


The battle for construction sites


As a rule, a confrontation over construction of capital churches is stormy. Opponents of building churches come out for rallies and supporters for prayer services.  And they seldom avoid mutual reproaches. In June protesters in the Torfyanka Park set up tents and stood watch there by night and blocked entry for construction equipment. The construction was protected by the "Forty Forties" movement. Its coordinator, Andrei Kormukhin, says frankly that the association was created two years ago for protecting construction of churches in the "200 Churches" program. He is sure that a planned attack is being conducted against the project. Kormukhin says that today activity of the movement "has helped 15 Orthodox parishes of Moscow to acquire their own churches."


Sergei Atamanenko, an opponent of the construction of the church in Torfyanka, notes that the activists of the "Forty Forties" movement are, as a rule, aggressive young people of athletic build. He says that in Torfyanka there have not been big brawls, but local skirmishes regularly occur. "In discussions they often make a provocative approach and begin to pressure with their body," Atamanenko adds. Local residents describe how ordinary parishioners were brought to Torfyanka Park. The believers processed to the construction site and began to hold a service. "We consider that they are not local residents, but they refuse to show their residence card," Sergei says. Losiny Island district resident Yulia Trofimova recalls that during the confrontation in Dzhamgarov Park "stranger parishioners cursed and tried to beat" her and other opponents of construction. "I experienced such aggression against myself for the first time in my life," she acknowledges.


Even Patriarch Kirill does not restrain himself from harsh statements: several years ago he called opposition to construction of churches "a wave of hypocritical anger." However, speaking aboute vents in Torfyanka, the primate called the sides to "reject confrontation" and "settle peacefully."


The foundation "Support for construction of churches" does not see a wave of protests. "Sometimes one should investigate: is it really local residents who are protesting, or is it the same group of people who are moving about different districts of Moscow and frightening residents with horror stories about tramps, the deceased, and destruction of a park," Archbishop Mark says. Priest Aleksei Yakovlev, as the coordinator of the movement "Forty Forties," is sure that opponents of construction of churches are well paid: "The idea of construction of a church is disliked by representatives of various sects and the LGBT community. After opposing churches they will try to oppose the government. This is not simply like Maidan but it is being done on the same money that was spent on Maidan." Yakovlev considers that representatives of Yabloko and the CPRF are interfering with construction. "Somebody's parents with their own hands shot priests, demolished churches, and destroyed icons. Of course, now their children cannot agree to the construction of a church," the priest adds.


Ostankino resident Valentina Bakulina, like many other defenders of parks, emphasizes that the protesters do not like construction in a green zone and it is not important whether a church or a supermarket is built there. "Green territories are beneficial for both believers and atheists. Why are people who are trying to preserve these territories being called atheists, one should ask the proponents of construction themselves," Valentina says. "It is not our fault that religion is mixed in here." (tr. by PDS, posted 10 July 2015)


Russian original posted on site, 10 July 2015

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