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Baikal and Kremlin are ahead of Heart of Chechnya Mosque in scandalous Russian National Symbol completion

October 04, 2013, 11:36 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

Russia’s oldest polling institution (WCIOM) reports that most surveyed have supported the Baikal Lake as a candidate for the winner in the Russia-10 competition to make the country’s leading symbols. At an intermediate stage in August, the Heart of Chechnya mosque was close to being the leader in the country, where the majority of the people are Christians. The competition results are due on October 6, and here the survey conducted by WCIOM is a sort of an exit-poll.

The Russia-10 competition was offered by the then governor of the Moscow region, Sergei Shoigu, who is the country’s Defense Minister nowadays. Eighteen months earlier, he suggested organizing a museum complex, which would demonstrate architectural attractions’ miniatures from the country’s all regions. Shoigu suggested at that time organizing a nation-wide voting to choose national symbols. Many countries have landscape-architectural parks: Israel, Turkey, Italy, Germany, France, the US, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria and Ukraine.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin supported the initiative. The complex will be constructed in the Moscow region. The government has allocated an area of a thousand hectares and 50 billion rubles for the project. The park-museum is due to open in 2016. The purpose of the Russia-10 competition is to support stable interest to the country in the aspect of domestic and international tourist, and to demonstrate unique geographic, architectural and historic attractions. As the competition is over, the ten winners will become the Russian Federation’s symbols.

In March of the current year, Sergei Shoigu as President of the Russian Geographic Society, announced beginning of Internet and telephone voting for the Russia-10 competition.

A scandal in the middle of the competition was out of the blue sky. The rules read clearly: “Ten leaders in the final are not ranged. The final will not have either first or tenth ranking, there will be only ten leaders and twenty followers.” However, psychologically the first is the first, no matter how a list is put together - either vertically or horizontally. Following this logic, the public opinion will consider the top position in the list to be Russia’s major attraction, like the Statue of Liberty in the US or the Eiffel Tower in France.

So, back in August, the country’s media, including the governmental Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily, reported: “The Heart of Chechnya Mosque leads the Russia-10 competition.”

Head of the Chechnya Republic Ramzan Kadyrov used his Instagram account to thank everyone who had voted for the mosque. “The Heart of Chechnya Mosque is the first! Our people are united and can solve any task!” Kadyrov wrote.

The Heart of Chechnya Mosque is the biggest mosque in Europe and in the world - it was opened on October 17, 2008 and bears the name of Akhmat-Haji Kadyrov, the Republic of Chechnya’s first president, and the father of the current head of the republic. The mosque’s area is 5,000 square metres and it may house over 10,000 people. Another 10,000 people may pray in the summer gallery and in the square around the mosque.

The Internet community was shocked by the fact a Muslim mosque was the leader in the competition for the country’s national symbol, where the majority is Orthodox. Many people wondered how the Chechens managed to collect 38.2 million votes for the mosque, while the republic’s population is only 1.3 million, and the total number of Chechens living throughout the world is 1.5 million.

It turned out later that the local television, the Internet resources, specially organized concerts and events called on the nation to vote for the Heart of Chechnya Mosque. Every ministry received orders to organize active voting of the staff and the nation. On Akhmat Kadyrov’s birthday, August 21, in Russia’s 38 regions Muslims received during Friday praying leaflets calling on them to vote in support of the mosque in Grozny. Information technology experts say about some IT “winding”, which was used during the voting.

In August, the country’s Russian regions also began an active calling for mass voting in the Russia-10 project. Agitating concerts, flash-mobs, publications in the media and on the Internet called for active participation in the project. The result was that the Kremlin in the Moscow region’s city of Kolomna gained 38.6 million votes and got ahead of the Heart of Chechnya by 400,000.

On the last day of the voting, August 30, the content provider could not serve the inflow, and thus votes from many regions, including Chechnya, were not registered.

Ramzan Kadyrov accused the competition’s organizers in “clear fraud” and demanded Beeline, Megafon (national major communication providers) and the Russian Geographic Society “reimburse immediately all the money, the people spent for the voting” and announced the Heart of Chechnya would not participate in the Russia-10 project. Kadyrov filed a claim to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office.

The voting was suspended for a week “to correct the errors”, to be resumed later on.

As of Friday, on the eve of the announcement of results due on October 6, WCIOM publishes its report: the Baikal Lake in Eastern Siberia (20% of the vote) is followed by a Kremlin, without naming the city where it is, - 17%. Other ten leading positions are: a monument to Stalingrad heroes in Mamayev Hill (12%), a former tsar palace in Petergof (11%) and the Moscow Kremlin (10%). Seven percent of the surveyed supported the Motherland monument in Volgograd, 5% believe Red Square to be the country’s symbol; 4% each named the world-known Kizhi complex on an island in Lake Onega in north-western Russia, and the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. Three percent each named the Bronze Horseman in St. Petersburg, the Holy Trinity - St. Sergius Lavra in the Moscow region, the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the entire churches and cathedrals in Russia.

Most surveyed – 58% - preferred to name Lake Baikal as the national symbol. As for the Heart of Chechnya Mosque, only six respondents told WCIOM it is the country’s symbol.