Russians invited to buy back or rent their old family estates
Culture minister backs plan to save historic monuments heading to rack and ruin by privatising them
By Sophia Kishkovsky. Web only
Published online: 22 December 2012
The Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky has begun a campaign to auction pre-revolutionary estates and mansions to save them from potential ruin. He said that architectural monuments in the worst condition would be a priority and would be offered for long-term rent or even sale to those who can demonstrate that they are committed to restoration.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia rejected the idea of property restitution to descendants of the noble families and wealthy merchants who owned such homes before the Bolshevik Revolution.
Medinsky said that the government had failed to follow through on previous plans to manage the properties and that the situation had reached a crisis point.
“There are 150,000 [architectural] monuments in the country,” said the minister according to the RIA Novosti state news agency. “Some of them are in private hands, a majority are in state hands and even more are in a state of ruin. About ten years ago there were instructions to hand over about 2,500 monuments to the monuments administration agency. [But] the government’s instruction was not carried out. Two hundred and forty-one monuments were handed over. The monuments are in [a] horrific condition.”
Medinsky said that the ministry had already proposed that Rosimushchestvo, the state property agency, auction the right to rent those sites that are in good condition at market rates, on the condition that they are properly maintained. Sites that are in a ruined state would be leased at a peppercorn rate. Olga Dergunova, Russia’s deputy economic development minister and the head of Rosimushchestvo, said firm plans were yet to be put in place, however.
Many of Russia’s historic properties were allowed to crumble in the post-Soviet bureaucracy of the 1990s and 2000s to make way for more lucrative residential and commercial buildings.
The city of Moscow is now actively employing the new scheme to auction monuments, which has already resulted in some positive examples of restoration. But in the regions the situation is more complicated for preservationists and potentially easier for those who want to purchase outright a monument.
Yevgeny Sosedov, the chairman of the Moscow region branch of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments, is leading activists in a fight to save Arkhangelskoye, the Yusupov family estate, famous for its palace, grounds and art collection. Since the 1990s, a state museum has shared the grounds with the ministry of defence, which runs a convalescent hospital there. It is ironic, Sosedov said, that estates that survived the Revolution have suffered greater damage in the post-Soviet era because in Soviet times they were, at least, in use as pioneer camps, sanatoriums or collective farms. Local officials, he said, are not interested in dealing with the smalls sums of money needed to conserve estates that have fallen into ruin. “Everyone is waiting for big money,” he said.
Some of the descendants of the pre-revolutionary elite have bought back family properties. Yury Voicehovsky-Kachaloff and his wife, Vera, spent around $100,000 to buy the remains of the mansion and grounds of Khvalevskoye, an estate in the Vologda region, which was used as a government office and school in the Soviet era. Vera Voicehovsky-Kachaloff is a descendant of Nikolai Kachalov, an official who was close to the future Tsar Alexander III. The family rediscovered the estate after being sought out and invited to the local village’s anniversary celebration in 2006. The cost at auction was high, said her husband, because a local hunting organisation was eager to purchase the territory to develop as a hunting grounds.
It cost the Voicehovsky-Kachaloffs around ten times more to restore the mansion. Financiers now based in Moscow who spent ten years living in London, they were inspired by the UK's National Trust. They plan turn the mansion into a local museum, cultural centre, Sunday school, a base for their family gatherings, and possibly a small hotel for those interested in the culture and lifestyle of pre-revolutionary estates.
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