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Russian parliamentarians have challenged the well-orchestrated government plan to relocate the country’s Parliament and other key institutions to the outskirts of Moscow. Former President Dmitry Medvedev hatched the plan in June of last year as a way to reduce pressure on the capital's over-stretched infrastructure. The Kremlin also hopes that decongesting the city center will eventually help to turn Moscow into an international financial hub, a key part of its modernization drive.
However, in a rare show of solidarity the leaders of major parliamentary factions opposed the plan, with some expressing revulsion at the prospect of working at a place where Stalin’s repression victims were buried.
The pro-Kremlin United Russia Party teamed up with opposition parties on Monday to publicly reject former president Medvedev's proposal to move the Parliament, together with other government institutions, outside of Moscow, the Kommersant Daily reported on Tuesday. The proposal, part of the Kremlin’s initiative to create a “Greater Moscow” by annexing an area that stretches 580 square miles to Moscow’s southwest, could see some 40,000 officials working on the outskirts of the city.
The Russian capital officially added 160,000 hectares in the south and southwest on Sunday as part of Kremlin’s boundary expansion program. Future plans include reclaiming and developing new territories southwest of Moscow, and will involve building two highways, extending the Moscow metro and constructing over 1,000 houses. New premises will also be constructed to house the Kremlin administration, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Supreme Court and new headquarters for the Russian Parliament.
A working group set up in April to propose a list of potential locations for Parliament headquarters, which will house both the Duma and the Federation Council, is expected to submit its recommendations to the Kremlin on July 9. While the group has held most of its previous meetings behind closed doors, Monday's deliberation was deemed significant enough to warrant the personal presence of the leaders of three State Duma factions, Kommersant reported.
State Duma Deputy Vladimir Resin, the capital's urban development head under former Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the current head of the committee, told deputies that a suitable site has been found for the Parliament headquarters outside the Moscow Ring Road, near the village of Kommunarka. However, the mere mention of Kommunarka made some party leaders uneasy because of its historical association with Stalin's mass executions. Situated 22 kilometers southwest of Moscow, Kommunarka is a notorious NKVD burial site for repression victims. The place was also supposedly the site of mass executions during Stalin's great purge from 1934 to 1939.
"Relocating beyond the Ring Road is not justifiable from both the political and technical point of view," Sergei Mironov, the Just Russia leader, said. "I am particularly wary of Kommunarka. Up to 14,000 people killed during the repression were buried there. I don't think it's a good idea to build the Parliamentary center on the bones of Russian citizens.”
Other legislators opposed the relocation plan citing a constitutional requirement that the public must have reasonable physical access to the Parliament. "I am categorically opposed to the parliamentary center being built on the outskirts, and it's not because I am afraid to go there," said Sergei Reshulsky, a deputy head of Communist Party faction. "The Parliament is both a representative and a legislative body, and every Russian citizen should have access to it."
A more combative stance was adopted by the leader of the ruling United Russia Party, who all but suggested that relocating the Parliament to the city's periphery is a threat to Russian democracy. "The Parliament is a symbol of freedom and statehood," said Andrei Vorobyov, the head of United Russia's faction in the State Duma. "But what role are we assigning to freedom and democracy – peripheral, or central?" Vorobyov wondered why the government could find places for Moscow's ZIL car factory and other businesses inside the city but could not squeeze in the Russian Parliament.
The Kremlin appeared completely unfazed on Tuesday by the latest challenge to its plans, even on behalf of loyal parliamentarians. “Deputies have been advised to make their views known by July 9 and this is what we are seeing happen," Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "The president will surely consider all proposals by the parliamentarians, as well as other government agencies, before making a final decision."
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