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Mikhail Yurevich’s Organ

Mikhail Yurevich’s Organ

25.06.2010 — Analysis

The newly-appointed governor is such a baby. He can't wait to take off his political diapers, shake up the local elites, and replace the old pocket money with multi-billion-ruble investments in the budget. But what if he doesn't know how to do this and his excessive ambition prevents him from being able to admit to his own inexperience? - questioned a columnist for RusBusinessNews.

From time immemorial, nobles and officials in Russia have put their trust in God and in his earthly intermediary, the tsar. The governor has the status of a "royal" envoy, because he is appointed by the Russian president. But often the president's blessing is not enough to win respect and popularity in the fiefdoms he has been entrusted to manage. In this case, he can only make the sign of the cross and go to be received by the Almighty himself.

The "opiate" of religion has always had contraindications and side effects. There is truth to the old saying "if you force a fool to pray, he will beat his head against the ground." But who listens to silly old sayings nowadays?

Aleksandr Misharin, who was last November appointed governor of the Sverdlovsk region, was the first to knock his head against the holy altar. On the eve of the visit to Ekaterinburg by His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, the local diocese approached the governor with a proposal to rebuild the Cathedral of St. Catherine the Martyr in the center of the capital of the Urals.

The leader of the region was an enthusiastic supporter of this controversial idea. After all, if it had been built, the cathedral would have been only a few hundred meters from his residence. Who knows? Maybe the governor's advisors decided that this proximity to God would help relieve the public's bitter disappointment with Misharin's current policies and might symbolically elevate him in the eyes of the elite. And so the bureaucratic pens scratched away, coming up with cost estimates to construct the cultural building. Those who had come up with the idea quickly made all the arrangements, but no one had asked the people what they thought. And it was all for naught.

In order to build the church, certain things would have to be demolished, including a beloved public fountain and square, which were so refreshing in dusty, stuffy downtown Ekaterinburg. Thousands of residents of the capital of the Urals rallied in defense of their beloved square, making it clear that God was not just on the governor's side, but on theirs as well. Thanks to their efforts, the protest was heard in Moscow, and the idea of rebuilding the cathedral was abandoned. The documents requesting permission to begin work have still never been presented to city hall. It is unlikely that they ever will. Even Aleksandr Misharin is keeping a shamefaced silence about his initiative.

It seems that this was a good lesson. But there's a venerable Russian tradition that says if there's a garden rake lying around, you won't just step on it once, you'll step on it two or even three times. Because shortly afterward, this particular piece of gardening equipment whacked the governor of the neighboring Chelyabinsk region, Mikhail Yurevich, right in the forehead.

Mikhail Yurevich took office on April 22, Lenin's birthday. This was a symbolic coincidence. The new leader of the region immediately made it clear that he would use revolutionary methods in his work.

A few days before the start of his gubernatorial term, Mikhail Yurevich decided to present a gift to the Russian Orthodox Church. On the eve of Patriarch Kirill's visit to Chelyabinsk, Mikhail Yurevich took the initiative to transfer the Alexander Nevsky Church into the hands of the Russian Orthodox Church. The building on Aloye Polye street is crowned with cupolas and crosses and is as symbolic to the residents of Chelyabinsk as the municipal fountain is to the people of Ekaterinburg. The region's only concert hall for chamber and organ music is found in this church. 

Kirill appreciated this offer. "I am pleased with the viewpoint I have discovered while talking to the local authorities. Your city still bears the stamp of the old way of doing things. That's plain to see. You need to build more churches, and I will be happy to come here and consecrate them," the patriarch urged.

However, members of the regional philharmonic orchestra who use the concert hall and the patrons of their music were not pleased to hear that the city might soon be rid of this "infernal stamp." This might mean that Chelyabinsk could lose its unique organ made by the German organ builders Hermann Eule Orgelbau, which would not survive a hurried move to a new building. And the fact of the matter is there is nowhere to move it, anyway. The regional authorities have proposed several new locations for the musical instrument, including the dilapidated Rodina cinema. But none of these buildings are properly equipped to house the organ and they would all require major remodeling.

According to the Chelyabinsk political analyst Aleksandr Podoprigora, any move would have to be very carefully considered, and, ideally, a new organ hall would be built. "An organ can't simply be picked up and moved just anywhere. It could easily be damaged and lose its tone. This is precisely why cultural figures have asked that, for now, it not be removed from the church."

As soon as cultural figures began collecting signatures in defense of the musical instrument and declared their intention to hold a concert in protest, they encountered some less-than-divine opposition. On April 28th, the municipal police summoned them to attend a meeting at the Headquarters to Combat Extremism, in order to have a preventive discussion about the dangers of unsanctioned protests. These potential extremists included: the People's Artist of Russia Vladimir Khomyakov, the organist Larisa Timshina, the director of the children's program "New Names" Tamara Liberman, the poet Irina Argutina, and other famous figures in the South Urals. 

The sponsors of the protest were convinced that the municipal police were acting on "orders from above." But they did not back down. They gathered about 8,000 local signatures and sent them to the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with the demand that this vandalism be stopped. The organizers of the protest had strong support on the Internet and from city residents. About a thousand people attended the protest concert the organizers arranged.

Mikhail Yurevich countered the defenders of this organ with the forces of his own organs of authority. On May 14th, on the eve of the protest concert, the Junior Chamber of the Chelyabinsk Municipal Duma voted to support the governor's initiative.

Then the region's Public Chamber, the elder brother to the Mikhail Yurevich's body of officials, entered the fray. Members of the Public Chamber collected 15,000 signatures from people who favored the return of the church to the Russian Orthodox Church and these signatures were sent to the head of the government. But the petition that supposedly gathered all of these signatures was only circulated for a remarkably short period of time. Because of this, the cultural figures who were leading the protest were forced to question the validity of the signatures held by those on the governor's side.

But Mikhail Yurevich, like his colleague Aleksandr Misharin, managed to rethink his position quickly enough that he was not forced to pick a fight with his own constituents. The day before, his press office released a statement saying that the unique instrument would remain where it was until all of the technical and organizational issues had been solved. The church will hold its first worship service on July 8th. The priests will stand next to the organ and recite their prayers.

"The instrument will only be moved after an independent expert determines the most appropriate music hall for it and the new space is properly equipped for the organ's sound. If such a space is not found, then the regional authorities will consider the options for constructing a new building," Mikhail Yurevich's press office promised.

The bumps and bruises on Aleksandr Misharin's and Mikhail Yurevich's heads from all their vigorous genuflecting may soon heal. But the bigger question is whether any of this has taught them a lesson - that reckless, frenzied prayers can be hazardous to their political health.

Konstantin Dzhultaev 

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