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Protest action against handover of iconic cathedral to Church held in St Petersburg

January 13, 2017, 21:48 UTC+3 St PETERSBURG

The action has brought together several dozen people

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© AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

St PETERSBURG, January 13. /TASS/. Residents of St Petersburg have held an action of protest on Isaakiyevskaya Square against the transfer of the city’s majestic Cathedral of St Isaac to the Russian Orthodox on the terms of free use, a TASS reporter said in an eyewitness account.

Deputies of the St Petersburg city legislature held it in the form of a meeting with members of the general public. Actions of the kind do not require official authorization but participants in them do not use posters of or public address devices.

Police confiscated one poster but did not impede the action otherwise.

The reporter said the action brought together several dozen people. Deputies Boris Vishnevsky and Maxim Reznik confirmed their intention to press forwards for a repeal of the city government’s decision to turn the cathedral over to the administrative realm of the Church.

"The city laws give us the power to hold meetings with voters," Boris Vishnevsky said. "We’re holding a meeting of this kind and we’ll tell them how we’re going to defend their interests during the transfer of the cathedral."

In the meantime, Nikolai Burov, the director of the St Isaac’s Museum said the cathedral was closed for visits earlier than usual because of the action in order to prevent possible standoffs between the supporters and opponents of transfer decision taken by Governor Georgy Poltavchenko.

Under the governor’s decision, the cathedral is to go over to the Russian Church on the terms of gratuitous use over a period of forty-nine years.

Activists in St Petersburg, a city known for the dominant liberalistic outlooks among its population, have launched a signup campaign for revoking the decision. As many as 160,000 signatures have been submitted to date and the organizers of the signup claim the submission rate is around thirty signatures per minute.

They underline the strictness of the submission procedure and say the operations of bots are ruled out.

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, Metropolitan Varsonofius 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 Gov Poltachenko in 2016. They insisted that the 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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