Civil society activists in Hrodna apply to city government for registration of group that would initiate referendum on downtown redevelopment project

Civil society activists in Hrodna on August 15 filed an application with the City Executive Committee for the registration of a group that would initiate a local referendum...

 

Civil society activists in Hrodna on August 15 filed an application with the City Executive Committee for the registration of a group that would initiate a local referendum on the authorities' plans to redevelop the center of the city.

HrodnaThe idea of such a referendum was put forward by local historians in the spring of 2007 after they learned that the redevelopment plan envisaged the demolition of several dozen structures of historic and cultural value.

As Ales Smalyanchuk, the group's head who holds a doctor's degree in history, told BelaPAN, over the summer, they have managed to recruit some 50 people ready to take part in preparations for the referendum. He said that this number should be enough to gather the required quantity of signatures. If registered, the group will have to collect signatures from around 20,000 people, 10 percent of all eligible voters in the city, to initiate the referendum.

In any case, its registration would entitle the group to legally canvass house-to-house to inform the public about the problem, Dr. Smalyanchuk said.

Several old buildings deemed unique architectural monuments have already been pulled down in the city in western Belarus as part of what the city authorities describe as a redevelopment project.

On August 1, the authorities completed the much-protested demolition of a building that was part of the 18th-century palace of Hrodna's vice administrator. The Baroque-styled one-storey structure was built in 1794 from a design by German architect Mezer and was used as a church stable. The building belonged to the Hrodna Orthodox Eparchy, which initially promised that it would not be pulled down but converted into a small church.

Ales Krawtsevich, another holder of a doctor's degree in history, said at a conference held in Hrodna on Wednesday that campaigning against the destructive redevelopment project had made the authorities abandon their plans to remove the 70-year-old Polish pavement on Savetskaya Street.

Participants at the conference expressed concern about the condition of the St. Xavier Church (Farny Church), which was built in 1705 and is one of the symbols of Hrodna. According to them, the building's walls have developed cracks because a busy road has approached the church as a result of the redevelopment of Savetskaya Square.

Advocates of historic heritage conservation are also concerned about the authorities' plans to redevelop Eliza Orzeszko Street, which was built up in the late 19th century and still has an old pavement.