Warning over Russian heritage status ‘smokescreen’

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Conservationists say historic area’s new status will allow development

Видение отроку Варфоломею (The Vision of Young Baltholomew), 1889-90, by Mikhail Nesterov, shows a young St Sergius of Radonezh

The Russian government has designated an area near the village of Radonezh, around 60 km north-east of Moscow, as a federally protected “place of note” in the run-up to the 700th anniversary in July of the birth of St Sergius of Radonezh, one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most revered monks. Ostensibly the move appears to protect an area which includes the embankments of a 14th-century fortress and two 19th-century churches, but conservationists warn it will do the opposite.

The area was already listed decades ago and the new decree, issued in March, will enable development to take place, because of its ambiguous wording, they say. Sergei Chernov, an archaeologist who helped develop a conservation plan for the area that took effect in 1986, told the Regnum news agency that the new terminology is misleading.

“The change of Radonezh’s status into a ‘place of note’ [has been] done… to revoke the current restrictions placed on it in 1986 as a protected territory,” he said. “Behind the smokescreen [of the new terminology] which has no legal basis, a wave of construction will begin that will be impossible to stop.”

Conservationists have long been complaining about unlawful construction of luxury housing in the scenic Radonezh area. In 2011, Yevgeny Dushko, the mayor of the town of Sergiev Posad, within the region, was shot dead. His murder has not been solved but is believed to be connected to his attempts to fight corruption in the historic city.

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