Letter: Why Russia must look to Scotland

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The Independent Online
Sir: Gavin Stamp wonders if Russia is wise to look west ('Och, don't ruin the city of Tsars', 4 May) for craftsmen to restore the crumbling facades of St Petersburg. I in turn wonder if Mr Stamp appreciates the nexus between Communism and the preservation of historic buildings. Because, if he did, he would be more circumspect about berating our own record alongside the Russians he feels we are now patronising.

Granted that Leningrad was carefully restored after its wartime siege, Mr Stamp is naive to think that this was principally because of its proud, long-suffering citizens. Since when did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union give a damn about its citizens? What mattered above all else in this context was propaganda value, and how better to demonstrate the leading role of the Party than to tart up the former imperial capital to bring in the tourists with their hard currency? Communist ideology, as Mr Stamp regrettably forgets - having been mesmerized by the St Petersburg skyline - touched every aspect of Soviet society, including architecture.

This dismal fact is best demonstrated by the crumbling ramshackle edifices of thousands of pre-revolutionary buildings, in Russia and throughout the former Soviet Union, visible the moment one steps outside St Petersburg. Be thankful, Mr Stamp, that the British governments of the 1930s chose not to dismantle St Paul's Cathedral, York Minster or Salisbury Cathedral, because that is precisely what Stalin was doing in the Soviet Union.

Today's Scottish architects are exporting their valuable know- how because, quite simply, Russia does not have its own. To disparage these architects for not having done more at home is to miss the point entirely.

Yours sincerely,

WALTER BILAS

London, SE15

4 May

(Photograph omitted)

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