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Transparency International wants probe into transfer of St Petersburg cathedral to Church

January 13, 2017, 20:40 UTC+3 St PETERSBURG

The government of St Petersburg is the formal owner of the St Isaac’s compound, which simultaneously enjoys protection from the federal authorities and is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site

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© AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

St PETERSBURG, January 13. /TASS/. Transparency International Russia center for anti-corruption research and initiatives has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to probe into the decision by St Petersburg authorities to transfer the landmark St Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church, the head of regional affiliation of Transparency International, Dmitry Sukharev, told reporters on Friday.

"Transparency International has filed a petition with the Prosecutor General’s Office over the violation of procedural regulations by those who filed the request (for the handover of the compound), on the one hand, and by the owner, or the city, on the other," he said. "The latter didn’t provide an appropriate facility for the maintenance of the museum, and this is mandatory under law."

"We filed the petition with the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow, since the problem concerns the Governor’s action," Sukharev said.

He also surmised that lawsuits in connection with the decision by Governor Georgy Poltavchenko to transfer the St Isaac’s to the Russian Orthodox Church are inescapable.

Opponents of the transfer have already stated their plans to challenge the decision through court actions and have said they will continue to invite the authorities to further dialogue. As an instrument for stimulating this dialogue, they launched a petition to Poltavchenko.

Activists say more than 150,000 persons have signed it to date, with more than 20,000 signatures submitted over the past two days.

"The rate (of submitting the signatures) is thirty persons per minute," Polina Kostyleva, an activist of the ‘St Isaac’s to the City’ campaign told reporters. "All the signatories are real people. Bots are ruled out because we have a very strict procedure."

Residents of St Petersburg make up 70% of the applicants, but people from Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnodar have also submitted signatures.

The diocese of St Petersburg made a request to transfer the St Isaac’s to it for the first time in the summer of 2015 but the city government turned it down then. In April 2016, the Metropolitan of St Petersburg and Ladoga, asked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to consider the transfer of St Isaac’s to the administrative realm of the diocese in line with provisions of the 2010 federal law ‘On the Transfer of Properties Designated for Religious Purposes to Religious Organizations’.

The diocesan officials forwarded a similar query to Poltavchenko in 2016. They insisted that cathedral should get back its functions of a place of Christian worship.

The government of St Petersburg is the formal owner of the St Isaac’s compound, which simultaneously enjoys protection from the federal authorities and is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Before the revolution of 1917, the cathedral was among a few church buildings managed by the Imperial Ministry of Internal Affairs, not by the Holy Synod of the Church, owing to the impressive costs of maintenance of this majestic building.

The post-revolutionary Soviet government turned the cathedral into a museum in 1928. The services that resumed there on special occasions in 1990 gradually became daily ones.

St Isaac’s Museum officials say more than 18,000 people attended the grand Christmas service in 2016 and the special sermons for the victims of the October 2015 crash of a Russian A321 jet over the Sinai Peninsula.

Museum experts also say more than 3.5 million tourists visit the cathedral every year. Pilgrims make up about 1% of that number.

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