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Opponents say decision highlights growing influence of Orthodox Church in Russian life.16 February 2017
St. Petersburg Governor Georgi Poltavchenko’s decision to hand ownership of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church has divided Russia’s second largest city.
The huge, domed structure was built in the 18th century with government funds and has never been under church ownership. Supporters and opponents of the decision have held rallies and an online petition drive against church ownership has so far gathered more than 210,000 signatures.
Opponents fear that the acquisition of the cathedral will give a green light to the church to take control over other cultural and historical properties of religious significance.
Protesters see the decision as another example of the increasing influence of the Orthodox Church in Russia's political life and the preferential treatment of Orthodox believers over, The New York Times reports.
Opposition to the handover is being led by cultural figures in the city that claims to be Russia’s cultural capital.
St. Isaacs has been used as a museum for much of the past century. The head of the museum complex comprising the cathedral claimed its museum would be devastated if the church took control, while the director of the city’s famed Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky said the handover represents a “savage provincialization of St. Petersburg,” the Calvert Journal writes.
The conflict over the transfer has spread into politics, with two rightwing State Duma deputies directing anti-Semitic remarks at Boris Vishnevsky and Maxim Reznik, the St. Petersburg city councilmen who led protests against the handover.
Vishnevsky rejected Duma member Vitaly Mironov’s public apology for his remark and said he was consulting lawyers regarding possible legal action against him.
In January Poltavchenko told TASS that, despite the protests, the transfer will certainly take place, at the same time saying the cathedral will retain its function as a museum and remain accessible to people of all faiths.
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