Sunday, July 29, 2007

Moscow Out of Burial Space Within 7 Years

Seems the real estate boom in Moscow has other, unintended consequences. According to a recent article by Svetlana Osadchuk of Moscow Times, The city is running out of burial space in cemeteries.

The April deaths of former President Boris Yeltsin and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich brought a period of national reflection, as well as awareness of a new challenge facing Moscow: where the remains of dignitaries, luminaries and common folk alike should be interred.

While overcrowding is a common complaint among Moscow's living, the situation is hardly better six feet under: At the current rate, burial space within the city limits could run out within seven years.

The city currently has only 100 hectares of available burial space in its 72 cemeteries and is using 10 to 15 hectares per year for burials, according to data from City Hall's consumer market and services department.

Last year alone, Moscow registered 127,000 deaths, and Muscovites, proud of their status as natives of the center of the Russian world, may have to begin seeking their final resting place in the suburbs.

With very few possibilities to expand burial space within the city limits, city authorities have already begun spending some 1.5 billion rubles ($59 million) on land for new cemeteries in the Moscow region, said Svetlana Ozkan, a spokeswoman for Ritual, the monopoly owner of Moscow's cemeteries.

And space is tight no matter how famous you are.

Yeltsin and Rostropovich were buried in the historic Novodevichye Cemetery, the resting place of the country's most famous writers, poets, politicians and public figures and considered the premier cemetery in the capital.

"Rostropovich's grave was probably the last one in Novodevichye Cemetery," said Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the Presidential Property Department.
The article goes on to note the many famous dead that are buried in Moscow's most famous cemeteries, such as Novodevichye or Vostryakovskoye. Prior to 1991, noteworthy people were actually buried in Red Square next to the Kremlin walls.

Part of the problem is that ... by law, the city must provide a burial space to all citizens for free. However, currently such requests are filled by burial in cemeteries outside the Moscow city limits.

People who insist on burying a loved one in Moscow need to contact the administration of the desired cemetery directly to discuss the possibility of obtaining a plot.

"Nobody will offer you a plot for free in Moscow unless you bury a very important or famous person or if you already have a family place in the cemetery," said a woman who answered the telephone at Ritual's information center.

A handpicked spot at a less prestigious cemetery -- such as the Mitinskoye cemetery, northwest of Moscow -- could cost around 50,000 rubles ($2,000), while a spot at the Miusskoye cemetery in northeast Moscow could go for around 560,000 rubles ($22,000), she said.

Such prices have lead to resale of plots, both used and new, in the most famous locations. Supply and demand, after all. The story reports:
One woman who posted her phone number on the Internet under the name Natalya said she was ready to sell a plot at the Vostryakovskoye cemetery for $45,000.

At the same time, there is no information about ownership for 20 percent of all graves in the country, according to a State Duma report released in March. There have been reports that the ambiguous ownership of gravesites has led to abuse from cemetery employees who try to resell the spaces.

A Channel One television documentary broadcast in June 2006 featured a man in the Leningrad region town of Gatchina who said he visited his wife's grave in a local cemetery only to find a new grave with a different headstone embossed with a name that was not his deceased wife's.
Obviously, all of this cost and trouble has led the more pragmatic to select cremation when they shuffle off this mortal coil. Approximately 50% of Muscovichi do just that, even though only 7 to 8 percent of all Russians select cremation. The Russian Orthodox Church generally discourages cremation as a heathen practice. Despite that, due to a limited number of crematoriums in Russia, demand is quite high. The Nikolo-Arkhangelsky crematorium is the largest crematorium in Russia (and all of Europe) claims to cremate 100 to 120 bodies each day. With this demand, even the cost of cremation is scheduled for a price increase from approximately 2,500 rubles ($100 or so) to 3,800 rubles on Wednesday.

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