Church Seeks to Restrict Access to Solovki

Roland Oliphant – 2/2/13

Access to the Solovetsky islands, home to one of Russia’s most  important monasteries, could be restricted in a bid to preserve  the archipelago’s “special way of life,” a top ranking clergyman  said.

Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said Thursday that  the Solovetsky islands in the White Sea and the Valaam islands  in Lake Ladoga — both home to historic monasteries — were  among several sites the church is pushing to reclassify as  “religious-historical places.”

“We are currently very carefully working in connection with  the topic of Solovki; there is an idea to develop  a full federal program. Meetings about this question are taking place  practically every week, the questions under discussion are not simple,” he  told Interfax on Thursday.

In order to give Solovki, Valaam and other historic sites  protected status, serious changes to the law are necessary, he said.  The government’s understanding of this is growing, he added.

“Places like Solovki, Valaam and several other monasteries are special  places connected with traditional non-christian religions — it’s not just  the buildings and the land, it is a place where there is  a special way of life, and this way of life is incompatible  with mass tourism, building of entertainment and attractions, or noisy  political or mass cultural events,” he said.

Chaplin stressed that places like Solovki should remain open to both  pilgrims and tourists, provided they “respect the internal atmosphere  and special way of life — or they will simply be lost.”

The monastery at Solovki, a world heritage site, was founded  in the 15th century, and grew to become one of the richest  and most prestigious religious centers in the Russian empire.

For 16 years in the 1920s and 1930s it served as a prison  for political undesirables — becoming the model for the  Gulag system of prison camps.

The monastery was restored to the Church in the early 1990s,  and the islands have become and increasingly popular place  of pilgrimage and secular tourism since the monastery was  reopened. Today about 30,000 to 40,000 thousand tourists visit  the islands each year.

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