Hostel Hostile

Sign for the Squat Art Hostel in central Petersburg. According to an article in the March 2, 2015, issue of Ekspert Severo-Zapad, the city had between 1,250 and 1,270 budget accommodations, including 270 hostels.
Sign for the Squat Art Hostel in central Petersburg. According to an article in the March 2, 2015, issue of Ekspert Severo-Zapad magazine, the city had between 1,250 and 1,270 budget accommodations, including 270 hostels. As of today’s writing, Airbnb listed over 300 rentals in the city. Photo by the Russian Reader

MPs Plan to Evict Hostels from Apartments
But entrepreneurs don’t intend to pull up stakes yet 
Elena Gorelova
Vedomosti
May 12, 2016

At its Friday session [Friday, May 13, 2016], the State Duma will consider a bill that could ban Russian hoteliers from housing hostels in apartment buildings. Galina Khovanskaya, chair of the Duma’s committee on housing and communal services, had tabled the amendment back in September 2015. According to MPs, mini hotels violate the rights of residents in adjacent apartments. If the changes take effect, it will be possible to install hotels in residential buildings only after rezoning the spaces from residential to non-residential. Mini hotels will have to be equipped with soundproofing, fire safety equipment, and security alarms. They will have to be located on the first floor and have a separate entrance.

The ban would have a catastrophic impact on hosteliers, argues Yevgeny Nasonov, chair of the committee on budget accommodations at the Moscow branch of Opora Russia and general director of Clover, a network of hostels. A study conducted by the League of Hostels in December 2015 showed that around 80% of Moscow’s mini hotels and serviced apartments are located in the city’s residential housing stock. In Petersburg, Crimea, and Krasnodar Territory, those percentages are even higher.

From 2012 to 2014, mini hotels were most often opened in residential buildings, says Roman Sabirzhanov, who owns sixteen hostels, including the Fabrika and the Croissant. But residents dissatisfied with their new neighbors then began complaining and showered the prosecutor’s office with lawsuits. Seeing the risks of doing business in residential buildings, Sabirzhanov opened his own hostels in non-residential buildings from the very beginning. It is not always more expensive, he claims. For example, Sabirzhanov has invested 3.5 million rubles [approx. 47,000 euros—TRR] in a new, 225-square-meter hostel on Chistye Prudy. 40% of the money went for rent; 40%, on repairs; and the remaining 20% on obtaining permits and undergoing classification. As of July 1, 2016, all hotels must be classified, receiving from one to five star, while hostels will receive the the no-stars category.

Even if the bill is not passed into law, hostels in residential buildings will be banned sooner or later, Sabirzhanov believes. At the moment, big cities are in the process of being purged of dubious flophouses in the run-up to the 2018 World Football Cup, and hostels have been subjected to more frequent inspections, he says. Even normal hotels might get the axe, the hotelier is convinced. Over the past five years, the number of beds in discount hotels and serviced apartments has grown twentyfold in Moscow, and the major hotel chains that have been lobbying the ban on hostels are not pleased with this redivision of the market, Sabirzhanov claims. He advises hoteliers against making hasty decisions. For the time being, he says, they should operate as they have before, recoup their investments, clean up their premises, and settle conflicts with building residents. At the same time, however, they should think about relocating if they have the means, launching a new hostel in a non-residential space, and going through classification. In the end, you can close the hostel and put the apartment up for rent, says Pavel Gorbov, executive director of Re:Sale Expert.

Launching a small hostel in Moscow runs you approximately two million rubles, estimates Nasonov. But rezoning a space as non-residential is quite expensive for small businesses. Nasonov cites the example of an entrepreneur he knows who has been attempting to build a separate entrance for a store in a residential building near Vykhino subway station. (The procedure for obtaining permissions is the same as for hostels.) He has already spent 1.5 million rubles on construction.

Translated by the Russian Reader.

Petersburg Activists Rally in Support of Saratov Antifascist Sergei Vilkov

Petersburg Activists Rally in Support of Saratov Antifascist Sergei Vilkov
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
June 1, 2015

On Saturday, May 30, activists from the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) organized a theatrical protest rally, entitled “#I Am Sergei Vilkov, or Pinning Labels,” on the Field of Mars in central Petersburg.

OcGK7I5KI2qAlMWt3NJlkWQM5OqzEtspCIMaIVL0MEsSocialist activists rallying in support of Saratov journalist Sergei Vilkov in Petersburg, May 30, 2015. The placard on the far right reads, “Antifascism is not a crime, journalism is not extremism. I am Sergei Vilkov.”

The activists demanded an end to the persecution of Sergei Vilkov, an independent journalist and antifascist in Saratov, who was physically assaulted in January of this year by two unknown assailants and has been accused by various local authorities of “extremism.” In one particular instance in April of this year, Vilkov was fined 1,000 rubles by a Saratov court for having posted, in November 2011, a caricature on his personal page on the VKontakte social network that fused the logo of the ruling United Russia party and a swastika.

Vilkov has blamed his troubles on Saratov businessman and Saratov Regional Duma deputy Sergei Kurikhin. Earlier, Vilkov had published articles in the local monthly news magazine Obshchestvennoe Mnenie (Public Opinion), exposing Kurikhin’s dubious political and business dealings.

Activists at the rally on the Field of Mars held placards demanding prosecution for the persons who, allegedly, assaulted Vilkov in January and decrying censorship.

Symbolizing the alliance between the authorities and business, two activists were dressed as a judge and a “new Russian,” who wore a crimson jacket, popularly regarded as typical attire for gangster businessmen during the “wild nineties” in Russia.

IMG_0592“New Russian” and “Judge” at Saturday’s protest rally

The “judge” and the “new Russian” brought with them a criminal case file full of labels, such as “foreign agent,” “atheist,” “fifth columnist, “tolerast” (an insulting slang term applied to people regarded as having excessively politically correct values), “forbidden by censorship,” and “offends religious sensitivities.” These labels and epithets are typically applied to critics and opponents of the current Russian authorities.

The two men hung and pinned these labels to the other activists who were present in order to “make them feel like Sergei Vilkov.”

IMG_0717“Judge” labels activist a “tolerast” at Saturday’s rally.

The socialist activists are convinced that Vilkov’s case is not an anomaly. Travesties of justice in the courts, political crackdowns against opposition activists, censorship, corruption, and the fusion of political authority and business are rather typical of Russia, they argue.

All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

Mikhail Zolotonosov: Saint Shepetovka

When [the con man] Ostap Bender [in Ilf & Petrov’s Twelve Chairs] paints for the citizens of Vasyuki a mental picture of their future prosperity, his second selling point is architecture: “Hotels and skyscrapers to accommodate the visitors.” In the provincial mindset of the nineteen-twenties, skyscrapers were understood as an obligatory condition for turning a city into a “world center.” It is this archetype that is now being realized in Petersburg in the early twenty-first century.

From the Architectural Firm of Ilf & Petrov

“Dazzling vistas unfolded before the Vasyuki chess enthusiasts. The walls of the room melted away. The rotting walls of the stud farm collapsed and in their place a thirty-storey chess palace towered into the sky. Every hall, every room, and even the lightning-fast lifts were full of people thoughtfully playing chess on malachite-encrusted boards. Marble steps led down to the blue Volga. Oceangoing steamers were moored on the river.”

All we have to do is replace the “thirty-storey chess palace” with a ninety-storey skyscraper [Gazprom’s Okhta Center], the Volga with the Neva (the 400-meter folly just has to stand right on the bank of the Neva, not somewhere in the interior), chess with hydrocarbons, and the “rotting walls of the stud farms” with “hazardous” buildings, slated for demolition in accordance with 150-point lists prepared by city officials, and the entire picture painted by Ostap is restored right down to the last detail. Vasyuki becomes New Moscow, and Petersburg, Saint Shepetovka. [Shepetovka, in western Ukraine, is the birthplace of Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko.]

“Emulation of Shepetovka”

There are mental stereotypes that exist independently of expediency and logic, and it is these stereotypes that guide the reconstruction of Petersburg—in particular, the doctrinaire propagation of skyscrapers. The proposed new building height statute, which fully corresponds to the Saint Shepetovka mindset, is meant to further this project. This is the logic that [Matviyenko’s] “Saint Shepetovka dream team” inhabits. The dream team takes it as an article of faith that it is impossible to develop the city without the total demolition of old buildings and the erection of skyscrapers. The decisive battle for the transformation of decrepit, dilapidated Petersburg into Saint Shepetovka has been scheduled for 2008. Continue reading “Mikhail Zolotonosov: Saint Shepetovka”