[Marxism] Engels would gasp
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 18 08:48:17 MST 2006
NY Times, December 18, 2006
Engels Would Gasp, and Locals Gripe, at a Golden Mile
By SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY
MOSCOW, Dec. 17 The statue of Friedrich Engels
that graces one of central Moscows most
prestigious neighborhoods has not been of much
use to any but pigeons in recent years. But
Engels, the co-author of The Communist
Manifesto, was a handy rallying point not long
ago for some residents of that neighborhood,
Ostozhenka, who were protesting its
transformation into a hotbed of luxury housing
thanks to the Russian capitals oil-fueled real estate boom.
Leave Us Alone, read banners unfurled by the
protesters in September. That is the name of
their movement, spurred by the latest luxury
housing project, slated for the site of an
apartment building in which some of them still
live, at Khilkov Pereulok 3. The gold domes of
Christ the Savior Cathedral, a 19th-century
church destroyed by Stalin and rebuilt in the
1990s, just as the district began to take off, overlook the area.
Ostozhenka (pronounced ahs-TO-zhen-ka), once home
to many artists and intellectuals, is now known
in the parlance of real estate agents and their
wealthy clients as the Golden Mile. In the last
five years it has become a Kremlin-view Beverly
Hills on the Moscow River. Its winding lanes are
now home to modern multimillion-dollar
penthouses, Ferraris, gourmet restaurants and
bizarre crimes: last year a celebrity plastic
surgeon was stabbed by roller skaters, and later
died, in what appeared to be a roll-by contract killing.
The neighborhoods rise is only one of many
morality tales of money, power and real estate
now playing out across post-Soviet Russia.
In recent months, dramas included an elderly
Moscow couple who had been evicted from their
home and were camping in the yard of their old
apartment building, which was slated for
demolition to make way for new construction, and
villagers being pushed from their homes on the
edge of Moscow to make way for high rises. In
both cases, residents were infuriated by orders
to move to apartments in Yuzhnoye Butovo, a
district that is near a former Stalinist killing
field and an hour from central Moscow by subway.
They are still fighting the orders.
The fight continues in Ostozhenka as well. The
Golden Mile is the most brilliant business
project in post-Soviet Russia, Denis Litoshik
said in November at one of the neighborhoods Starbucks-like coffee shops.
Mr. Litoshik, 27, has a personal stake in its
transformation: he lived, until recently, at
Khilkov Pereulok 3, and is a leader of Leave Us
Alone. As a journalist for the business newspaper
Vedomosti, he is awed by what he says is a
reported $33,000 per square meter price tag on
apartments going up next door to his former home.
Theyre not selling drugs, but theyre making
much more money, he said of developers who have converged on Ostozhenka.
But a few buildings, some ramshackle, some
solidly middle class, hinder a complete makeover.
One of those is Khilkov Pereulok 3. Mr. Litoshik
lived there with his wife and their baby until
city authorities issued a decree in May declaring
the building subject to demolition to make way
for new construction even though the 19th-century
building was overhauled in the 1960s and
renovated again in the past few years. He and
other residents were pressured by officials and
developers to leave. Fearing that the building
could be burned down, as sometimes happens across
Russia when new construction has been slated, he moved away and began to fight.
This month, the business daily Kommersant
reported that the federal antimonopoly watchdog
had deemed the plans for Khilkov Pereulok 3
illegal. But that ruling could yet be challenged
and may not halt the development. Sergei Tsoi,
press secretary for Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, was
quoted by Kommersant earlier this year as calling
the Ostozhenka protesters actions egoism.
Ostozhenka stood virtually untouched until the
late 1990s, frozen in time by a Soviet decree
that called for the construction of a vast
Lenin-topped Palace of Soviets in place of the
razed Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was never
built, but the plan was never revoked; a swimming
pool was instead built on the site. And
Ostozhenka figured in Mikhail Bulgakovs
surrealist novel, The Master and Margarita,
which gave the Russian language its ultimate real
estate catch phrase: The housing problem has corrupted them.
Bulgakov depicted the early Soviet years, when
aristocratic abodes were forcibly transformed
into communal apartments for the masses, with
shared bathrooms, kitchens and secrets. Now new
money is squeezing out the remaining
kommunalki, as the communal apartments were called.
Aleksandr Khosenkov, 56, lives in a friends
communal flat. I live here, but all the streets
have been renamed I cant find the houses, he
said. It doesnt matter if a person has a
Mercedes. Their soul should matter, not their car.
Georgy Dzagurov, the general director of Penny
Lane Realty, which offers properties in
Ostozhenka, said, Practically anyone who is powerful has bought there.
One million dollars or $2 million is nothing for
them, he said of his clients. In October, Morgan
Stanley announced its purchase of a stake in RGI
International, owned by Boris Kuzinez, a
developer whose ultramodern buildings are
credited with transforming Ostozhenka into
billionaires row. RGIs Web site, posted in time
for its London Stock Exchange initial public
offering earlier this month, lists Khilkov 3 among its projects.
While describing his clients only as mostly
businessmen, bankers, in oil and metals, Mr.
Kuzinez acknowledged an oligarchs need for the
right milieu. Its hard for oligarchs to live in a regular building, he said.
Maksim, a banker, though not an oligarch,
declined to give his last name but agreed to show
his sleek two-bedroom apartment in an a Kuzinez
development. There are guards everywhere, he
said. Filtered water, central air conditioning,
good parking. The main thing is its homogenous. This is a plus.
Mr. Litoshik, wearied by battle, is accepting a
buyout of over $10,000 per square meter for his
80-square-meter (860-square-foot) apartment. A
victory, he said, because in Russia a fair price
is almost miraculous. A loss because we never wanted to sell our apartment.
It is a story that has been familiar to
generations of Russians, both before and after
the Soviet era. Khilkov 3 is The Cherry Orchard
2, Mr. Litoshik said, referring to Chekhovs
play about what else money, real estate and one class squeezing out another.
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