ROAR: Parking lots become political issue in Moscow

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov is now at loggerheads not only with opposition activists, but also with federal agencies, with some politicians proposing the liquidation of the city government.

The mayor this week suggested charging for parking lots at federal agencies in Moscow, insisting the land near their buildings belongs to the city.

Luzhkov mentioned parking spaces even in front of the presidential administration and the State Duma as a way to increase city budget revenues. Otherwise, the parking lots should be closed, the mayor said. His proposal immediately provoked a sharp reaction from federal politicians, including the leadership of the lower house of the parliament.

This move will never help to increase the budget, State Duma Transport Committee Chairman Sergey Shishkarev believes. He suggested improving the legislation in this sphere because it even does not contain the term “parking lot,” Itar-Tass said.

State Duma deputy Maxim Rokhmistrov of the Liberal Democratic Party agrees that Luzhkov has “no legal grounds for making such statements. Land has been delimited under federal legislation into federal land, regional land, and not delimited land,” he told the agency.

“Instead of engaging in such PR campaigns, the Moscow city government should think about how to create enough parking lots in the city,” the deputy noted.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and a deputy speaker of the State Duma, has even more radical views. “Let Luzhkov show a legal document that regulates the relations between the city property and the federal,” he told Vesti FM radio.

“Such a document could only be adopted by the State Duma, not the Moscow City Duma,” he stressed. “We can even adopt a document in the autumn to liquidate the Moscow government, and a minister in charge of the federal center may be appointed,” he noted.

The initiative in the property issue should come only from federal authorities, Zhirinovsky believes. “There is nothing here that belongs to the city. However, Moscow still receives a lot of money [from the federal budget] for fulfilling the functions of the capital.”

Moscow is first of all the capital, the deputy said, and the fact that it is a place where Muscovites live is “a secondary issue.” The buildings of the federal agencies and the land around them belong to the Russian state, he noted.

Full delimitation should be conducted, Zhirinovsky said. “The arguments about who owns monuments – the federal authorities or the city ones – have been continuing for almost 20 years,” he noted. “Certain forces may benefit from this unclear situation, when not everything has been settled in the legislation.”

State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov has ordered a probe into the dispute, giving instructions to the parliament’s property manager to look into the problem.

Meanwhile, the parking lot issue is continuing to add to the number of opponents to the Moscow mayor. Activists of opposition movements intend to continue staging rallies on Triumfalnaya Square despite the construction work the city authorities have begun there.

The Mayor’s Office has decided to construct the 600-car parking lot on the square by late 2012–early 2013. Opposition groups see the move as a pretext to deprive them of the right to gather on the square and defend the constitutional right of free assembly. The city authorities routinely ban all protest events at the place.

“Nothing is changing for us,” Aleksandr Averin, one of the organizers of the opposition rallies, told Interfax. “We have seen fences before,” he said, commenting on Triumfalnaya Square.

The rallies held on the last day of each month with 31 days in support of Article 31 of the Constitution will continue, Averin noted. The Mayor’s Office had banned another rally on August 31 before it was announced that the square was to be closed for three years.

It is inexpedient to start the construction at the moment, believes Aleksandr Sarychev, director of the Institute of Transport and Road-building. This decision shows that the Mayor’s Office “do not think about the interests of city-dwellers,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

At the same time, the majority of listeners who called to the radio to discuss the topic did not support the opposition groups’ plans to continue rallies on the square.

The latest disputes are developing against the background of increasing rumors in media about the possible mayor’s resignation and the replacement of him with some other candidate. The recent mayor’s statements and moves seem to work for his critics.

The plan to reconstruct the square raises dozens of questions, said Nikolay Levichev, the head of the faction of the Fair Russia party in the State Duma. He cited experts who warn that the construction work may lead to the transport collapse.

The huge parking lot may attract more cars to the center, the deputy said. In addition, it is being built near the Metro station. Now the square is one of the remaining architectural ensembles in Moscow, he added.

The city authorities have decided to start work on “the square of political confrontation” on the eve of another rally, Levichev noted, speaking with journalists. “To pacify radical opposition by digging a foundation pit in a historic place is an unjustified and a high price to pay for the failure to reach civil accord by constitutional methods,” he said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT