Russian cultural heritage acquired two surprisingly ardent new supporters recently, as evidenced by this article. Yes, La Russophobe and Paul “The Indispensable” Goble have joined ranks with angry residents of St Petersburg who oppose the building of the proposed new Okhta Center. At a designed height of 396 m, it will be the tallest building in Europe when constructed, and will house the headquarters of state-owned energy giant GAZPROM. According to Fortune Magazine, GAZPROM was the world’s most profitable company last year, although it ranked 50th in overall revenue, booting former leader and American energy big-boy Exxon-Mobil.
I’m a big fan of research on topics I intend to discuss, because you learn the most interesting things. For instance, the name of the proposed facility was originally to be “GAZPROM City” – which was a horrible choice for a metropolis that boasts some of the most beautiful architecture in all of Russia. It was renamed the Okhta Center by its designers, Scottish architects RMJM. The new name reflects its proposed location, the Okhta Valley, a “rundown industrial zone situated on the edge of the city centre”.
What? But the article we’re discussing is entitled “Putin is Destroying Russian Culture for Cash”. In my experience, one rundown industrial zone looks pretty much like any other, anywhere. So, no beautiful old Russian heritage buildings will be razed to make room for the Okhta Center? Nope. Historical and cultural monuments? Again, nope. What apparently has the Angry Western and Local Agitators for Russian Culture in Russia so stirred up is that you will be able to see the tower from most anywhere in the city. Kind of like, you know, the World Trade Centre in New York, if it isn’t some kind of sacrilege to speak its name. And, presumably, the monument that will take its place – at a designed height of 541 meters, Freedom Tower will be 145 meters taller than the Okhta Center.
At first I thought, this is testament to American cleverness: no God-fearing American would dare criticize any design project with “Freedom” in its name! But I was wrong. According to the site, “The early designs were ridiculed. When the first cohesive plan came out of the pack it, too, found slews of detractors. New Yorkers are notoriously cranky people, and they took aim at the design. Most had forgotten, or were too young to remember, that the original twin towers were also the subject of much vitriol for their design and expense. It was only after those towers were taken away that the city realized it had grown to love its pair of white albatrosses. But detractors stalled the project for more than a year, adopted celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump as their mouthpiece, and embarrassed the city and the nation by allowing the United Arab Emirates to begin work on what would become the world’s tallest tower while New Yorkers were busy sticking their thumbs in each other’s eyes.”
There are a couple of things that should jump out at you from the American viewpoint; let’s look at them together, and then review them in the context of a couple of Americans bitching about the cultural wreckage that will surely ensue if the Okhta Center is constructed. New Yorkers who criticized the proposed Freedom Tower, we are told, are “notoriously cranky”. This means eccentric. People who opposed the design – presumably because you would be able to see it from everywhere, since it…ummm…didn’t displace anything, are eccentric. Good to know. St Petersburgers, though, who criticize the Okhta project (which looks strikingly similar to Freedom Tower except for the flat top and spike on the latter) because you will be able to see it from everywhere are solid and respectable defenders of heritage. Moving along, we learn that the design of the original World Trade Centre towers was also opposed; by people who, for one reason or another, learned to love them. Is it not possible the Okhta Center might become a similarly-treasured national landmark? I don’t see why not.
In the last complaint, I believe we all can understand what a slap in the face to American pride – an “embarrassment to the city and the nation” – it was to see those sneaky Arabs break ground on the world’s tallest tower while killjoy New Yorkers stalled American opportunity. That’s why, I believe, Russia can’t be allowed to have The Tallest Building In Europe. The biggest of anything is a symbol; of progress, of national greatness and pride. None of those square well with a Russophobic view of Russia.
But this is getting boring; let’s talk about something else. Because it’s my article, I get to decide, and I’d like to talk for a moment about Kommersant. The Indispensable Paul Goble sympathetically cites Kommersant as an inspiration for his newfound love of Russian culture. That’s curious, because Kommersant – once owned by absconded Aeroflot mogul Boris Berezovsky – is currently owned by Alisher Usmanov. Usmanov is chairman and director of GAZPROM investment holdings, a subsidiary of GAZPROM.
That’s boring, too – let’s talk for a minute about Paul “TI” Goble and La Russophobe’s curious advancement of UNESCO’s concerns in this issue. As you’ve probably guessed, I wouldn’t have mentioned it if there wasn’t something odd about it. And there is. Because, you see, the United States boycotted UNESCO for 19 years, only resuming an active role in 2003. Two years later, the United States stood alone in a bitter wrangle with UNESCO members over a plan to promote cultural diversity. The American position? The proposed initiative would limit the spread of American popular culture by restricting exports of its audiovisual products, particularly Hollywood movies and television programs. Did I mention the United States was the only country to oppose this initiative, despite its being sponsored by partners France and Canada and having the shoulder-to-shoulder support of all other members, including the European Union and its then-president – America’s “best friend”, Britain?
The lesson you can take away from this, then, is that UNESCO is an international pariah that unfairly seeks to curb the glorious spread of American culture throughout the world, not to mention interfering with the profitable movie and television industries. Oh – except when UNESCO has some problems with the construction of Europe’s tallest building in Russia. Then, then UNESCO is a crusading regulator against corporate graft and greed, heroically standing in the way of those greedy people greedily building a greedy monument to their greed at the expense of priceless Russian culture.
Just to show there are no hard feelings, and to showcase my diplomacy chops, I have a proposal I think will please everyone: not the least, La Russophobe. I propose the Okhta Center be built according to the current schedule, but that the design be altered to a 396-meter giant letter “M” – the famous “Golden Arches” of American fast-food giant McDonalds. After all, La Russophobe has been a tireless advocate of the notion that McDonalds represents the best of American culture and values, even going so far as to lecture adored lawyer Robert Amsterdam for failing to advance the Burger Agenda with the expected zeal.
Whaddya say, St Petersburg? Are you lovin’ it?