ST. PETERSBURG, June 28. /TASS/. The St. Petersburg City Assembly has voted against holding a citywide referendum on the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church, a TASS correspondent reported from the Mariinsky Palace, the Assembly’s residence.
Most of the City Assembly members agreed that the issue of the Cathedral’s status was incompatible with the law.
"As many as 38 assembly members voted in favor of a referendum but ten voted against it," the City Assembly Speaker Vyacheslav Makarov said announcing the voting results.
Before the voting, Denis Chetyrbok, who heads the Assembly’s Committee on Legislation, pointed out that "the handover issue has been settled on the federal level in accordance with the law." The Committee proposed that the referendum issue be declared incompatible with Article 12 of the Federal law ensuring the Russian citizens’ right to participate in referendums, as well as with the St. Petersburg law on referendum.
In May, the St. Petersburg City Assembly several times refused to consider the referendum issue.
The only referendum in the city’s history took place in 1991, when residents of Leningrad voted in favor of restoring the original name of the city, St. Petersburg.
In January, St. Petersburg’s municipal authorities announced their decision to hand the St. Isaac Cathedral over to the Russian Orthodox Church in accordance with the 2010 law on dispensing religion-related property to religious organizations. However, the building will remain the property of the city of St. Petersburg.
On March 28, the St. Petersburg Election Commission registered an initiative group to hold a citywide referendum on preserving the museum status of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Those taking part in the referendum were to be presented with the following question to answer: "Do you agree that the monuments of history and culture of federal significance owned by St. Petersburg, namely, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral should be attached to state museums while ensuring the possibility of holding religious rituals and ceremonies in them?"
On June 15, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual televised question and answer session, the Cathedral’s handover was brought up.
"It is true that the cathedral never belonged to the Church. It was an asset of the state. The Tsar was the head of the Church, though. In that sense one can say that it belonged to the Church to an extent," Putin said. He added that the St. Isaac’s Cathedral "was built as a church, and not as a museum."
"It was built for religious services, as a place where people could pray," Putin pointed out adding "this problem must be depoliticized." "We must forget that it exists as such. We should respect the religious feelings of people and never forget that the building was put up as a church and not as a museum. Its museum function must remain, of course," the Russian president said.