Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Anger grows as Moscow village of Rechnik demolished

By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow

Houses in Rechnik, Moscow
The community of Rechnik has been built up over the years by the banks of the Moscow River

Russian officials have said they will continue to demolish a picturesque village just outside central Moscow, despite a growing wave of protest from residents, opposition politicians and human rights' organisations.

Some residents in Rechnik, which was built during Soviet times in an idyllic location on the banks of the Moscow River, have barricaded themselves inside their homes.

One man told the BBC he would set himself on fire if bailiffs and police officers tried to force him out.

But on Tuesday the bulldozers continued their work, tearing through the walls and windows of homes, turning them into piles of rubble within a matter of hours.

From the beginning all building was illegal... there will be a park here instead
Vitaly Nikitin
Head of the local administration

On one mound of shattered concrete, glass and crumpled metal, lay children's toys and a black, leather shoe.

"I feel numb, I built this house with my own hands," said the owner, Nikolai, as he wandered through the wreckage. He did not want to give his full name.

"Now everything has been destroyed. I have lost my trust in everything and everyone."

He says he did not even receive proper notification from the authorities that his house would be demolished.

In one corner, he and his wife had gathered their belongings, including clothes, covering them with plastic sheeting.


As the sun started to set, the temperature fell below -20C.

The operation which began last week is being carried out with the help of a large contingent of police and bailiffs.

Police stand guard during destruction of Rechnik
Police say the destruction is entirely legal and ordered by the courts

They have sealed off the road leading into the village. The electricity to some homes has also now been cut.

The authorities insist they are operating entirely within the law and have court orders for the demolition of the houses.

"This land was given to the Moscow Canal Company in the 1950s which in turn gave it to its workers to create gardens and orchards," said Vitaly Nikitin, head of the local administration.

"From the beginning all building was illegal.

"We will continue to demolish these illegal houses and there will be a park here instead."

But the residents of Rechnik dismiss this, saying the land was occupied legally more than 50 years ago in the days of the Soviet Union.

Alexander Navroysky, who has lived in Rechnik for 17 years, sits inside his home with a large padlock on the gate, and the front door only opened to visiting journalists.

Everyone should know that everything he earns will be taken away from him, like in 1917
Alexander Navroysky
Rechnik resident

Dressed in camouflage jacket and trousers, he looks morose.

He has threatened to commit suicide if the house, which he says took him nine years to build, is pulled down.

He wanted a large house which his children could inherit.

"Whoever is behind [the demolition], whether it is the mayor of Moscow or the federal authorities, they are committing a crime against their own people," he says.

"There is no protection in this country. Everyone should know that everything he earns will be taken away from him, like our relatives lost everything in 1917," he says, referring to the Bolshevik revolution.

"It's total lawlessness."

No property rights

Legal experts such as Yevgeny Arkhipov, chairman of the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights says the authorities are committing a "flagrant violation of human rights".

He points to a law passed in 2006 which he says specifically granted an amnesty to people who had been given land in Soviet times when there were no property rights.

He says the government should have given them certificates guaranteeing them ownership.

In the village of Rechnik there are many residents who believe they are being forced out in such a brutal way so that a new resort for the business elite can be built.

The land on which the village stands is prime real estate worth billions of roubles (hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds).

But the Moscow authorities insist their only plan is to build a park.

Whatever happens now to Rechnik will be the subject of intense scrutiny in a country where violations of property rights are already a matter of real concern.

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