Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who Does The Kremlin Belong To?

Descendants of one of the ruling dynasties from Russia’s history have gone to court to regain control of property they say is rightfully theirs. The case is notable because the property in question, the Kremlin in Moscow, is some of the most famous real estate in the country. It’s also notable because a court has actually agreed to hear the case. Strangely, the case is not necessarily open-and-shut since it has been discovered that there is no official owner registered for the enormous complex. So who owns the Kremlin?

If people are familiar with a Russian dynasty, it is likely to be the Romanov dynasty of Czar Nicholas II. However the people bringing the suit are descendants of the earlier Rurik dynasty, which ruled for 700 years until 1598. It was during the times of the Rurik rulers that the stone structures in the Kremlin were first built.

The leader of the organization of Rurik descendants, Grand Prince Valery Kubarev, explains that his group (the Princes’ Foundation for the Advancement of Religious and National Consensus) is not asserting ownership as much as they are just wanting to gain access to the buildings and have management rights over the property. The prince said he wants “indefinite and 24-hour use” of at least one of the Kremlin’s four palaces or of several of its 19 towers for the Princes’ Foundation. The Prince also wants the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to be housed there, and for his foundation to be allowed to hold cultural, political and religious events inside the famous walls.

“The property was not purchased from us, was not lawfully taken away from us, and the federal authorities do not have any right to our property. The Ruriks demand the return of our property, rent from the government for the illegal possession of our property, and financial compensation,” Kubarev said.

The Moscow Arbitration Court decided to hear the case and granted the Princes’ Foundation’s request for official documentation regarding the status of the architectural elements of the Kremlin and of the underlying land. The government must present its evidence by September 14th and the case itself will be heard October 18th.

The defendants are the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Culture and the Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo). A lawyer for Rosimushchestvo told a newspaper that the Kremlin is the property of the Russian state, but surprisingly admitted that at the current time no property rights to the historic complex have been registered by anyone. Even so, the lawyers for the Russian government have dismissed the lawsuit as a “farce” without merit and with no chance of success.

Pointing to the government’s acknowledgment of no deed, Kubarev said, “The court noted that there is no document that proves that the Kremlin is somebody’s property. All we have is a presidential decree that says that the Kremlin is his residence,” Kubarev said. “Well, I could write my own decree, too.”

On the other hand, it might make sense for the Romanovs instead of the Ruriks to bring a claim, since they were the last ruling family in Russia. However, Alexander Zakatov, a historian and spokesman for the House of Romanov, ridiculed the lawsuit as insane. “Our psychiatric hospitals are working very well in the country. They [the Ruriks] should turn first to those institutions before going to court.” He said the House of Romanov has never claimed any rights to state-owned buildings because they belong to the nation, not a single family. “We won’t do it, even if Russia becomes a monarchy again,” he said.

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