Case study: The Solovetsky Islands

by Ms Marina Kuleshova, Ph.D.(Geogr.), Mr Vyacheslav Stoliarov, Mr Pavel Filin, Ph.D.(Ethnol.); Russian Research Institute for Cultural and Natural Heritage named after D.Likhachev

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Paper presents a preliminary analysis of the current situation in Solovki in relation to the preservation of the Solovetsky historical and architectural ensemble as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Solovki is an Orthodox sacred place, particularly treasured by the people of Russia. It’s spiritual and cultural heritage was inscribed as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 1992 after nomination as the Solovetsky historical and architectural ensemble of “exceptional significance for representation of important historical events” (by the UNESCO iv criteria). The main value of the site has been recognised in the complex of monuments of the monastery culture, “an outstanding example of a monastic settlement… which admirably illustrates the faith, tenacity and enterprise of late Medieval religious communities”. The state protection of this site is guaranteed by the Solovetsky Museum, established in 1967 as a cultural institution authorised to provide operational management of the monastery buildings and major constructions.

In 1998, with Norwegian logistic and financial support, an international group of experts went on mission to the site, in order to carry out a WHS evaluation. They did substantial analytical work and reported on the visit making a number of assessments and recommendations . The summary of the report included the following notes:
– significance and values of the Solovki Archipelago as a World Heritage Site are much higher than the nomination description and there are sound reasons for the re-nomination process with the estimation of the existing high quality cultural landscapes; – operational system for the heritage protection and management is far from adequate for either nominated or real heritage values;
– state of the heritage items and the whole ensemble, both registered and revealed during the research and evaluation, is critical and there are grounds for transferring this property into the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger List.

Particular attention was paid to the interaction of all stakeholders in the archipelago and relations between those who used the heritage resources: museum-reserve, monastery, federal forest service and administration of the settlement, local authorities, businessmen and economic enterprises. The interests and tasks of these parties were estimated as discoordinated and sometimes contradictory. In the report of the expert group there were proposed measures to overcome this discrepancy (establishment of the coordinating council, Solovki forum or heritage advisory commission) in order that every resource owner and user, as well as every party with an interest in Solovkir (resident and visitor alike) would be able to participate in the decision-making on heritage preservation and spatial planning and development. Plainly speaking, it was proposed that Solovki management would be guaranteed on the basis of ‘sobornost’ (community spirit), and that all diverse local, regional and national interests would be taken into consideration. There was also proposal to elaborate a program on spatial development and heritage preservation, to determine responsibilities of the resource users and provide a legal support to the WHS tested on the Solovki model.

Ten years on, although big changes have taken place on the Solovetsky Archipelago the major problems remain unresolved, and the general recommendations of the 1998 expert report continue to require action. There is no formal recognition of the unique natural and cultural landscape, though these universal values of Solovki were highlighted in the report, scientifically verified and internationally discussed . Correct definition and right recognition of the heritage values is not an irrelevant issue, as it determines the process of heritage management and enhancement in the archipelago. Many conflicts and heritage preservation problems are generated by lack of coherence in the understanding of the essential heritage values. In 2003 by the initiative of the national scientific community and international experts documentation for renomination of the Solovki Archipelago as a mixed (natural and cultural) property has been formally prepared and submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The re-nomination was preliminary accepted and approved by the Commission but had not received support from the Russian officials. Lack of adequate consideration of the cultural landscape values in the Solovki site leads to the following consequences:

1. Recreational use of the territory is not controlled or regulated, resulting in significant environmental degradation: in some of the most visited places in the archipelago (for example, Bolshoe Torfyanoe Lake) the vegetation and soil cover is completely destroyed; introduction of intensive and unlimited cycling tourism has led to greater accessibility of previously non-visited areas, where campfire residue, litter and human impact on wildlife is now visible; spontaneous private tourist services include exclusive ‘ecological’ tours to watch exotic animal and bird species (seals, white whales), and organised sea fishing or hunting trips. These uncontrolled activities put under serious threat both wildlife and natural ecosystems.

2. Waste collection and utilisation problems persist and are further aggravated by increased visiting of the islands. The landfill at the Bolshoy Solovetsky Island is transformed into a big distorted dump site and represents a significant source of negative environmental impact; the polluted effluents from the settlement and the monastery are not purified or collected, resulting in the contamination of the White Sea bay waters.

3. Unregulated economic activity in the archipelago and other factors of the disturbance have resulted in a decrease in the bird population and destruction of the rare and valuable ornithological complexes. Entrepreneurs are starting to use the land for agricultural production (plowing of the coastal zone near Tolstik cape for growing cress-salad and potatoes) and for seasonal camping (the summer camp site of the Ministry of Emergency Situations installed at the Batareiny cape, at the military strengthened constructions of the 18 century).

4. Degradation of the cultural and natural objects continues. The embankment of the Svyatoe Lake, one of the important elements of the monastery ensemble, is being destroyed by suffosion processes, the lake water is being polluted by effluents and litter, sea waves destroy monastery dams at the Phillip Fish Nursery and Malaya Muksalma Island.

5. Lake and canal system and hydrological constructions are in the process of decaying, hydrological regime of the archipelago undergoes irreversible change, and these problems are neither considered nor understood. This degradation results in secondary swamping or reforestation of the former biologically productive and beautiful meadows and leads to eutrophication of the fresh water lakes. Only on the Anzer Island has there been any positive action taken. Here, the pioneering activity of cleaning and restoring the canal system was recently arranged by the Golgopha-Crucifixion skete leader.

6. The importation of cars and the management of traffic on the archipelago is not yet regulated. Several hundreds of cars, motocycles and motor boats are used by Solovki residents and visitors. Vehicles are sources of pollution on the land and in the sea, expand the accessibility of the archipelago islands, exposing the fragile northern ecosystems to excessive human presence. Heavy vehicles are destroying the monastery roads of the islands initially designed for horse and carts and used primarily not for riding but walking. Planned renovation of the roads does not take into consideration the intrinsic value of the roads as heritage monuments, created by monks in 16-18 cc. The existing roads are listed federal monuments and they are to be restored, not reconstructed for automobile transport under the specific targeted programs.

7. In expanding the airfield of the Solovki airport the surrounding historic landscapes of the Igumenskoe Lake and ancient Phillip hermitage were severely damaged. The rehabilitation of these new ‘badlands’ within the territory of the World Heritage Site was not even issued. However, the plans for new land plots allocated to the airfield are under consideration, this could result in irreversible losses of the natural ecosystems.

8. Large-scale construction of the wind energy generator is planned at the distance of 2.5 km from the monastery complex, at the coast of Bolshoe Lobskoe Lake. Optional installment of the generator as high as 160 m with a circulation diameter of 70 m (for comparison the highest Solovki building, the monastery bell tower, is 55 m high) might have the most negative impact, both visual and environmental. This project is being discussed and coordinated with the stakeholders in the Arkhangelsk region and Russian Holding of Energy Systems (RAO EES). Heritage protection bodies do not participate in the negotiations, though it is clear that this construction, if approved, will be a new dominating visual element within the landscape, on par with the interference of the Gazprom Tower in St-Petersburg or the Peter the Great Statue in Moscow.

Among the positive consequences of the WHS inscription it is important to emphasise the increased funding for the museum-reserve with substantial employment possibilities and new jobs created on the archipelago. Financial support for the restoration of the monuments has also significantly increased. The museum-reserve has developed a number of new exhibitions and in the main monastery ensemble, the Phillip Church was restored in cooperation with the monastery. The roofs of the citadel wall and parts of the adjacent buildings were newly built, the Holy Gates facing the Blagopoluchie Harbor were reconstructed, and vernacular renovation of the monastery interiors was produced in the buildings utilised by the museum-reserve (former “Petersburg Hotel”, Prosphora and Novy Bratsky buildings). In the Makarievskaya hermitage Alexandrovskaya Chapel has been rebuilt (with the insignificant transformation of the historical original monument), the dazzling bright illumination of the monastery walls has been installed, and a new technical construction has been built for the exhibition on the Solovetsky young mariners etc.

Simultaneously, degradation of the architectural ensembles of the sketes and the economic complexes is continuing. Multi-year reconstruction of the main bell tower of the monastery is not completed; it is still surrounded by the trestle. Foundation of the equipage storehouse, one of the important elements of the Blagopoluchie Harbour, is being destroyed by sea waves, the former “Preobrazhenskaya Hotel”, destroyed by fire in 1990, is in a ruined state.

The last two years were marked by the following events: several wooden historical monuments were destroyed by fire (two-storey Phillip building and horse stables in the Solovetsky settlement, two-storey house in the Isakovo hermitage), local administration started the allocation of the land parcels within the settlement territory for the construction of the sport facilities complex and a rental service center for motor boats, cars and land rovers. The heritage site is located only 300 m away from these constructions, so the historical zone of the monuments and cultural landscape protection have been ignored. The old steamboat moorage, the federal listed monument of 19 century, was destroyed during the ‘restoration’ process, and metal pipes (diameter up to 1 m) are to be installed in the ground and covered by concrete slabs.

In summer of 2007 a new museum in the warehouse for rowing vessels was inaugurated. Both the museum exhibition and the restoration of the decaying building were supported by the non-governmental organisation “Northern SeaFaring Society”4. Though the Maritime Museum had neither promotion nor advertising, it quickly became known, and the free access to it in summer time ensured a high number of visits and appreciation. In the visitor’s book the museum is described as the best civil exhibition in the Solovetsky Archipelago. Interactive two-level exposition, simulating the same as the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, is arranged around the reconstructed “St.Peter” yacht, modeled from the historic boat by tsar Peter I. After two-year reconstruction is over this boat will serve the scientific expeditions and public events, while a new replica restoration will take its place. The Maritime Museum had a cooperation agreement with the Solovetsky Museum-Reserve, but the latter has already undertaken attempts to discontinue it and close the exposition on the formal pretext, probably because of the competing attractiveness to tourists and visitors.

In the recent years Solovetsky Monastery had undertaken significant restoration works. Spiritual practices and traditions have been interrupted for over 70 years, the institution of monastery was re-established in 1990, but it is not yet the fully legal cessionary at the archipelago though significant number of the buildings and monuments were informally passed to the monastery for it’s use. The various properties of the monastery are being slowly restored in their interior arrangements, according to their initial functions. The essential functional restoration of two sketes – Golgotha-Crucifixion at the Anzer Island and Sekirno-Ascension at the Bolshoy Solovetsky Island – is completed. These architectural ensembles are major height dominants on the islands and they visually refer to the central monastery complex. These sketes have revived the monk and hermit living conditions according to the monastery by-laws. In the chief Saviour-Transfiguration cathedral the 5-tier iconostasis has been installed replacing the old one lost in 1940s. Regular services are maintained in the restored Phillip Church. The restoration works in the Savvaty skete and Phillip Hermitage are being continued. Economic activity of the monastery, its agricultural lands, fishing nursery and animal breeding is under revival.

The significant object in the traditional monastery culture is the cross-crafting workshop established in the former Biological station building at the Seldyany Cape. Many memorial places in archipelago are marked now by the carved reverence crosses. Solovki crosses are erected also in the other places and countries – in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, in the Valamo Island and Butovo memorial, in Norway and Ukraine. This development of the ancient cultural tradition is evidence of increased impact of the Solovki phenomenon on the Orthodox world. It is necessary to acknowledge that the authentic sacred cultural landscape is being restored exclusively by the efforts of the monastery, while the historic and architectural ensemble is being restored thanks to the activities of both Museum-reserve and the monastery.

However, the tension between these two institutions is not relieved. Contradictions and conflicts are predetermined by the different visions, interests and objectives in their activities in the Solovki living culture. Thus, the good intention of the Museum to bring in the Soros Foundation financial support and expertise resulted in the considerable misunderstanding with the monastery. The clash of two ideologies – the ‘open’ liberal society with the freedoms and unlimited market and the ‘closed’ conservative monastery community with the ardent defense of the traditional Orthodox values – took place.

The Museum-reserve elaborated a program of the Solovetsky archipelago development based on the institutional position. The museum authority initiated other programming documents but due to their one-sided interpretation they did not receive a support from the state or the public. As a result, large-scale strategic decisions on the Solovki future are made at different levels due to current individual needs and objectives. Management deadlock is obvious, though it is masked by the required imitation of the ‘partnerships’.

Presently, the major issue is being discussed at the higher level of power – is whether the restoration of the monastery property could be adequate for the cultural heritage preservation. Both in Russia and at the international level serious concerns persist, but the cases of the Trinity-Sergii Lavra Monastery and the experience of organising the restoration works and heritage protection at the Anzer Island in Solovki, provide positive examples of the organisation of such activities by religious institutions. Taking into consideration the high probability of active involvement of the monastery in Solovetsky archipelago matters, it is necessary to elaborate a strategy for interaction with the Russian Orthodox Church on heritage preservation. For this reason, the importance of the UNESCO World Heritage committee and other relevant organisations providing instruction on heritage sites management in Russia might significantly increase. The exchange of the practical experience with the other churches or similar institutions, like Athos Mount WHS, would be also highly appreciated.

In Russia the heritage preservation programs or regulations for heritage users, including the Solovetsky WHS, are not yet introduced and adopted. Approved in 1973, the only spatial planning action – the project of the historic monuments zonal protection in the Solovetsky archipelago - practically ceased to act, though there was no subsequent legal denouncement. The new project of heritage protection zoning was initially not accepted by the federal government due to contradictions in the historical territory conservation and location of the new construction areas. Later, after correction, it was rejected by the regional government because of the lack of the construction sites already reserved by the Arkhangelsk regional authorities for the future investments.

The threats to the heritage conservation are revealed in the national legislative innovations – in City Planning, Forest, Land and Water Codes where the reference to museum-reserve legal category is lacking. Instead of precise and coordinated actions for legal protection of the heritage and historic legacy, the legislation is oriented at consuming heritage resources and search for the heritage commercialization methods.

What recommendations are advisable in such situation?
1. It is necessary to repeatedly convince the public and authoritative bodies that the whole Solovetsky archipelago comprises the World Heritage Site. The legal basis for such recognition is the status of a national remarkable site, fixed in the Federal Law on Cultural Heritage (monuments of history and culture) of the people of the Russian Federation (2002). In 2007 the Heritage Institute prepared an expert assessment on the need to establish such status of protection for the Solovki Islands.

2. A precautionary principle of heritage protection requires special norms of human behaviour and economic activity on the archipelago. The monks lead an ascetic lifestyle; they are indifferent to civic life commodities, are devoted to God and conduct secluded spiritual practices. In addition, thousands of murdered and perished victims appeal to our memory and demand respect for the multiple nameless burial grounds – all this is incompatible with the mass entertainments and tourism.

3. The management bodies of all levels (from local settlement to national ministry) should finally fix the responsibilities and competency limits in relation to the heritage preservation. The Museum-reserve as the only state guarantee of the cultural heritage protection due to various reasons is no longer able to cope with the increased responsibilities and tasks. It seems that in general the guarantee of heritage protection is not an institution nowadays, it could be a Law or Regulations on the management of the territory of particular significance and value. The values of the Solovki are primarily in restoration of the Orthodox sacred site, spiritual life monuments, preservation of the dramatic history memorials, conservation of the natural ecosystems and wildlife, cultural landscapes and environment. These factors determine the organization of the museum, education and scientific work at the archipelago.

4. Mass tourism is not a priority and does not require the establishment of the diversified multi-functional infrastructure. Educational tourism and pilgrimage are to be developed within the concept of the adequate representation of the World Heritage Site to the international community and the Russian nation.

5. It is important to establish a moratorium on the constructions and development investments until the new regulations on the land use at the remarkable site are adopted and spatially fixed. The rules and limitations shall protect the key sacred places on the archipelago – labyrinths, monastery constructions, burial grounds, memorial sites etc. - along with the beautiful cultural landscapes created by a man in cooperation with the nature – the roads, canals, dams, meadows, stone and wooden monuments and buildings.

6. Large-scale projects of development (such as construction of the wind generator) shall be screened through the compulsory environmental impact assessment and also receive an expert evaluation on the natural and cultural heritage from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and national authorities responsible for the heritage protection. 7. The aforementioned international expert report of 1998 included a recommendation for the organization of regular monitoring missions to Solovki WHS with the invitation of new international experts to observe and assess the heritage site. The organisation of such missions is particularly important now on the threshold of the possible monastery expansion and subsequent change of the Solovetsky site management status.