Russia bulldozes private homes

Riot police, left and citizens protesting, right.

That is the face of it, at least on first glance. Russia you must remember is a country of contradictions. Just as the the government gets caught developing a high-end resort for the wealthy elite on environmentally protected sea front property in Sochi, back in Moscow the government is bulldozing private homes built by the wealthy elite along the Moscow River…because they were built on environmentally protected land.

So how did all this mess come about in Moscow? Back during the Soviet times, certain party members and government leaders were given plots of ground to use as summer gardens and to build dachas. A dacha is a small summer cottage. The more important one’s status, the nicer the property.

Many cottages are hidden behind trees along the Moscow River.Admittedly, the area being bulldozed Речник (Rechnik) is very nice. Situated along the Mosocw river, Rechnik blends in with the winding river and enjoys great views as well as being a quiet weekend and getaway spot from big city life in the largest city in Europe.

Over the last decade landowners have built bigger and nicer houses at Rechnik. No longer little weekend cabins for gardening, mansion after mansion has appeared, on environmentally sensitive land, and at the same time Moscow authorities have threatened to bring in bulldozers to tear it all apart.

What about building permits, one might ask? At one time such wasn’t really needed for a simple summer garden cottage. If an official asked, the homeowner paid a bribe and life went on as usual. But in more recent years as landowners have built mansions in place of cottages, most mansion owners possess permits, approved plans, stamped inspection forms, etc. What they don’t have is zoning, and they’ve never had it.

In most countries things like building permits and inspections could never happen without zoning permit changes first. But this is Russia and things don’t always work “logically” when it comes to government.  Both sides have court victories to bolster their position as the battle has waged on for several years.

But the city of Moscow owns the bulldozers and controls the police, thus the destruction has begun.

The residents of Rechnik aren’t the only local residents who are worried. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that the Fantasy Island residential complex would face destruction next because the grounds that it was built on are dedicated for sports facilities, not apartments for the wealthy.

He promised that City Hall would deal with the complex after Rechnik. “This will be a different case but with a similar ending,” he said.

Completed in 2004, Fantasy Island, or Ostrov Fantazy, consists of more than 250 apartments of up to 480 square meters each that rent out for up to $20,000 per month, ranking them among the world’s most expensive condominiums.

The government says this development is illegal and will be bulldozed next.