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Monday, March 24, 2008

Putin's Pyramid Scheme

An artist's rendering of the latest neo-Soviet Russian atrocity

The Telegraph reports:

Vladimir Putin is to fulfil an unrealised dream of Josef Stalin's by creating a grandiose state cemetery. In a corner of northern Moscow bulldozers began churning the earth his week in a section of wasteland where Mr Putin and Stalin, the dictator he is said to revere, could one day be laid side by side.

The Federal Military Memorial Cemetery, its designers boast, will be Russia's answer to America's Arlington. Arguably the most ambitious architectural project undertaken since the fall of the Soviet Union, it remains to be seen whether the cemetery, due to be completed by 2010, will become the landmark the Kremlin hopes. There is no doubt that the project encapsulates the Putin era, which officially ends on May 7, though the president is likely to remain Russia's most powerful man in his new job as prime minister.

The cemetery will be a testament to extravagance, a piece of architectural monumentalism intended to reflect the glory of a resurgent Russia. For the critics, it is also a worrying sign of the Kremlin's flirtation with its Communist past. The design marks a return to the style many assumed had gone with the end of the Soviet Union. Drawings show that the 132 acre site will feature obelisks, golden statues of figures from Russia's past and friezes of workers in heroic poses. It is architecture from the era of heroic realism and a style of propaganda favoured by both Stalin and Hitler - a fact that has dismayed a dwindling number of liberal architects fighting the current trend of Soviet nostalgia.

The concept of a national cemetery was resurrected in the early 1990s by a state-owned body called Mosproject-4. The designer Alexander Taranin said he wanted to create a minimalistic cemetery that gave a quiet and honest reflection of Russia. "We tried to show the difficult road the country has travelled while still being optimistic about the future," he said. The Yeltsin government ignored the project but the plans gained traction after Mr Putin came to power in 2000. But as the liberalism of the 1990s gave way to Putin's authoritarianism, Mosproject-4 fell out of fashion. Russia's generals felt that a Soviet theme would be fitting for the final resting place of Russia's presidents and national heroes. Mosproject was usurped by the Combine of Monumental Decorative Art, a turgid Soviet-era state institution that was again in the Kremlin's favour.

Its chief architect, Sergei Goryaev, was only too happy to oblige the generals - even if it meant aping the neo-classical style of the past that had done so much to give Moscow its oppressive atmosphere.

"What is oppressive to you is solemn and glorious to us," he said. "The Soviet empire's style has many beautiful examples which are among the highlights of 20th century architecture anywhere."

An updated funeral ceremony for heads of state is also being developed that restores some of the militaristic traditions of the past. When Mr Putin dies, his corpse will be transported to the cemetery's pantheon in an armoured personnel carrier before being laid to rest, Mr Goryaev said. He added that it was possible that leading figures from the Soviet era, such as Stalin, could be reburied in the cemetery.

It is possible that Lenin could be moved there as well.

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