Russians protested Friday after the government appointed an unpopular former governor to run one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kizhi complex of wooden churches.
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky on Thursday set off a wave of protest by dismissing the current director and appointing the ex-governor of the northwestern Karelia region, Andrei Nelidov, who resigned last year after President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin.
The architecture complex including 18th-century wooden churches on an island in a lake is a popular stop on cruises. Its Church of the Transfiguration with 22 unpainted wooden domes is one of Russia’s most iconic images.
Deputy culture minister Andrei Busygin on Friday headed to the museum after 174 staff signed an angry open letter to Putin expressing fears that the site could be built-up and destroyed.
“The museum staff are convinced that with the arrival of Nelidov will begin not only the destruction of the monuments’ buffer zones but of the federal museum itself,” they warned.
As governor he showed “extreme incompetence” and developed a tourism strategy that “practically destroys the World Heritage site,” staff claimed.
More than 3,500 people had signed an online petition to Putin on Friday and regional lawmakers also sent a telegram to the president asking him to put the decision on hold.
Nelidov, an engineer by training, has no experience running a museum.
Medinsky argued Thursday that Kizhi needed a new manager to halt a drop in visitors to the complex and improve its infrastructure, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
“No one is going to Kizhi,” he complained.
UNESCO put the churches in the Karelia region bordering Finland on its World Heritage List in 1990. In a report last year it warned of concerns over proposals for new development in the area.
Putin accepted Nelidov’s resignation as Karelia governor in May last year.
Observers linked the decision to Nelidov’s low rating, his failure to calm social tensions and also low voting figures for the ruling party in the region.