ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Residents of Russia’s “northern capital” are once again girding themselves to defend the city’s world-renowned, 18th-century skyline.
Less than five years after locals successfully fought off an effort by state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom to build a 400-meter-high skyscraper in the center of the city, municipal officials are now looking for a place to erect a towering statue of Jesus Christ that has been donated by the Kremlin’s favorite sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli.
“Tsereteli has hardly created anything decent, even on such a holy topic,” longtime Petersburg rights activist Yury Vdovin says. “But it seems the authorities of the country and the city don’t give a damn about people’s opinions. They are pursuing their own ends.”
It was originally intended for the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, but officials there rejected it because of its enormous scale. Last year, there were reports of plans to put it up in Vladivostok.
This spring, St. Petersburg officials tried to place it in a large park on the outskirts of the city but local residents objected and the initiative was withdrawn. On July 9, however, St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko ordered the city planning committee to find a new home for the statue.
Local reaction to the announcement has been uniformly negative, particularly after municipal authorities just last month overruled public opinion and named a local bridge after former Chechen President Akhmed Kadyrov, the controversial father of current Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov who had no discernable connection with St. Petersburg.
Outspoken local clergyman Andrei Kurayev has said the best place for Tsereteli’s creation would be the Novaya Zemlya archipelago more than 2,000 kilometers to the northeast in the Arctic Ocean.
The Life.ru website created a satirical photo gallery of the statue photoshopped into various iconic St. Petersburg locations such as Palace Square or next to the Peter and Paul Fortress.
“Petersburgers love their city,” local lawmaker Aleksandr Kobrinsky says. “We shouldn’t forget how they unanimously resisted the construction of the [Gazprom tower] and won. I am sure that if the authorities insist on placing this statue, they will meet just as much resistance.”
“Instead of telling [Tsereteli] where to take his gift, the city authorities are looking for a place to put that monster,” he adds. “It is exactly the same as it was with the Kadyrov Bridge, when they spat on the opinion of 90 percent of the city because Moscow pressured them.”
Even local representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg think Tsereteli’s statue is a bad idea that not only does not fit into the city’s historic image but flies in the face of Orthodox practice as well.
“I am not opposed to new things, but they have to be canonically based,” says priest Georgy Mitrofanov, a professor of the St. Petersburg Spiritual Academy. “I’m not speaking about its aesthetic basis. From the aesthetic point of view, not being a fan of Tsereteli’s, I think this work clashes with the sculptural ensembles that already exist in St. Petersburg and I cannot imagine Tsereteli’s masterpiece within the cultural atmosphere of the city, particularly because it is so dubious from the canonical point of view.”
Full story at RFERL.