MOSCOW, January 11. /TASS/. The Communists of Russia party plans to stage protests amid the decision of St. Petersburg’s authorities to hand over the St. Isaac’s Cathedral museum, one of the city’s landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage site, to the Russian Orthodox Church, the party’s chairman Maxim Suraykin said on Wednesday.
"Our party will counter this decision. We will organize protests in St. Petersburg and outside the Ministry of Culture in Moscow," Suraykin said, according to the party’s website.
"We respect the feelings of believers but we cannot agree with the dangerous trend of handing over to the church a greater number of monuments of architecture, museums and real estate," he stressed.
The leader of the Communists of Russia (not to be confused with the Communist Party of Russia or KPRF) said the decision of St. Petersburg’s authorities is a "challenge to the public opinion." Suraykin said this will encroach on the interests of intellectuals and the city’s budget will lose some 800 mln rubles ($13.3 mln).
St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko told TASS earlier that St. Isaac’s would keep its museum functions after becoming property of the Russian Orthodox Church and will be open to people of all religions. The public reaction to the decision was mixed, with some experts voicing concerns that the cathedral’s new status could limit the access of tourists there.
The St. Petersburg diocese asked the city government to hand the cathedral back to the Church in 2015 but the request was rejected. A year later new requests were sent to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Governor Poltavchenko.
The cathedral was built in 1818-1858 and transformed into a museum after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Church services were resumed at St. Isaac’s in 1990.
Nonetheless, St. Isaac’s was not property of the Orthodox Church even prior to the revolution as its maintenance was very expensive. The cathedral was managed by the Imperial Ministry of Communication Routes and Public Buildings until 1871 and was then handed over to the Interior Ministry of the Russian Empire.