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Portrait Of A Lady

RUSSIA

PBS frames this story in terms of natural justice, of private citizens and organizations seeking justice from the state and the powerful. From a press perspective I have no quarrel with them over not offering the Nazi point of view -- which was that the art confiscated from Jews was acquired through illicit means. In the Nazi worldview this was not art stolen from Jews, but art restored to the Aryan people after it had been purchased with funds generated by Jewish capitalists. Balance is not always necessary when writing about Nazis.

Yet, not all victims of the terrors of the 20th century have received justice, nor received the sympathy of the mainstream media. Stories appearing recently in the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor on St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg cover the same fact pattern -- art stolen by despots returned to its rightful owners. Yet the editorial voice changes -- while justice was done in returning art and property stolen by the Nazis, justice should be done by keeping art and property stolen by the Bolsheviks in the hands of the state.

The New York Times article “Fight Over Control of a Cathedral Shows St. Petersburg’s Contrarian Side” and the Christian Science Monitor’s “Museum or church? St. Isaac's becomes bone of contention in Russia” report the St. Petersburg city council has decided to return ownership of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the city’s great cultural treasures, to the control of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The articles report on the history of the cathedral, noting it passed out of the control of the church following the 1917 revolution and became a museum. In 1990 the state allowed one of the chapels to be used for worship. However, the foot traffic of tourists visiting the cathedral dwarfs the number of worshipers by a hundredfold. And, tourists purchase tickets to enter the building, which goes to support a workforce of several hundred curators, administrators, custodians and guides.

The focus of the articles, however, is on the protests by some local residents over returning the cathedral to the church.

The Christian Science Monitor offers arguments from both camps. It quotes Patriarch Cyril as saying:

"The handover of St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg comes in a year that marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution, so it may become a symbol of national reconciliation … In the past, the destruction of churches and mass killings of believers carved out a horrible chapter in the book of our history and indicated a division in the nation. But now, the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the churches returned to the believers should become a symbol of accord and mutual forgiveness."

And a politician who supported the transfer:

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