Last year on the First of may Valaam monastery was shrouded in smoke. Burning building, which is owned by the monastery, and the pillars of smoke rising into the sky.
This building was not only a hotel but home to dozens of ordinary citizens of the island. Cyril Smyshnikov is one of them.
“I was able to bring his pregnant wife from a burning building at the last moment”.
Now Smyshnikov is one of the homeless residents of Balaam.
Representatives of the monastery openly stated that people who have lost their homes, the island is no longer welcome. The burned-out property once declared unfit for habitation, and the monastery wants to move the residents from the island to Sortavala.
In July of last year in Russia there was a growing concern. President Vladimir Putin a week did not appear in public. The reins are concentrated in the hands of one man, and his absence creates a sense of insecurity.
Putin chose the Valaam monastery as a place where you can again appear in public. In Finnish, the news also reported that the President participated in worship with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
Putin thanked the Patriarch and the “traditional religions” because they strengthen the spiritual foundations of Russia. He also honored the memory of Russian pilots who died in the Syrian war, “serving the Fatherland”, said the Kremlin.
Secluded Balaam became the Central stage for the tandem of political power and the Orthodox Church in Russia.
According to critics, Balaam — a fertile ground for the rich, there neglect the importance of nature and human rights.
Putin on the island, have a cottage and a sauna, which are located far from the tourist routes. Buildings can only be seen from the shore of a small river, which flows in the Central part of the island.
Putin often comes to Balaam.
The buildings are located on the territory of the St. Vladimir skete. Construction was completed in 2008, and in addition to giving, there is a large Cathedral.
The choice of name is not accidental: the locals call it “monastery of St. Putin.” The Hermitage is a secluded monastery or community of monks that live separately from the main monastery.
Tourists at the Cathedral, which is located on the territory of the monastery, allowed only small groups. Giving Putin during the tour, to see fails.
Russian Patriarch Kirill, in turn, built on the neighboring island of his new residence.
Excavation work began and the island Defense, which is South of the main island. It is a protected area where remains of Finnish fortifications of the 1930-ies.
Near the old gun positions and fire tower, the monastery builds a new skit. Previously, the island was empty of tourists, but now it is closed to the public.
Ladoga natural Park (probably referring to the Park “Valaam archipelago”, created in 1999 — approx. TRANS.) — an important protected area in Russia, which corresponds to the status of national parks of Finland. His representatives, however, have no influence on the progress of construction works.
Assessment of the environmental organization Greenpeace, the construction of the island’s Defense illegal.
“One of the most interesting tourist destinations is getting a VIP object that is closed for tourists” — describes the business on the island, and the conflict of the monastery and the inhabitants of the journalist Gleb Yarovoy.
The presence of political patrons noticeable around Balaam. During Christmas worship, praising oligarch Gennady Timchenko, another Putin, who also has Finnish citizenship.
Because of his Foundation was renovated large objects, for example, the main Cathedral and St. Vladimir’s monastery, on the territory of which the cottage is located, and a sauna Putin.
On the island there are many other evidences of the interest of important people.
The historic cemetery stands the monument of brick. Next to the departed abbots, that is, the abbots of the monastery are buried the other benefactors: the Ukrainian Viktor Klimenko and his son Anton Klimenko.
His brother Anton, Alexander Klimenko — by the Ukrainian businessman, who was the Minister responsible for taxes and revenues in the government of Viktor Yanukovych. In Ukraine, he is suspected of abuse of power and tax evasion. Klimenko fled to Russia after the fall of the Yanukovych government and was included in the sanctions list of the EU.
As it became known, Klimenko financed the construction of the Valaam monastery of the Kazan, and the family has close ties with the clergy of the monastery.
The main Cathedral of the monastery and surrounding buildings almost all restored, water systems and sewer updated. Ten years ago at the bottom of lake Ladoga held a cable that cost about 70 million euros.
The monastery has its own fish farm. Here was also imported Italian equipment and the recipes which are cooked here Valaam ricotta and long-maturing cheese. Cheese production was widely covered in the media in connection with the food sanctions imposed by Russia.
Putin is using the Orthodox Church as the vehicle through which he can rule Russia in accordance with conservative values.
The Orthodox Church is exposed to oppression in the Soviet time received in the years of Putin’s various rights, e.g. the right to return lost property. The Church gets richer, but within the limits dictated by the Kremlin.
The Church strengthens its authority is often faced with the Russians who hold positions of citizens of a secular state. It happened in St. Petersburg, where citizens fervently protested against the transfer of the Orthodox Church of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, now acting as a Museum.
The same thing happened to Balaam. Educated local know what the Russian laws guarantee them the right of residence on the island.
However, the legal system is involved in deception.
Irina Smirnova has worked on Valaam guide and entrepreneur in the tourism sector for about 30 years. She is the author of many books about the history of Balaam. Smirnov won the first court case against the monastery.
“After that, the judge quickly developed its own plan, and the following matters won the monastery,” she says.
Smirnov deprived of the right to residence on the basis that it is not permanently on the island.
“It’s a lie, which I was disappointed in the legal system”.
Smirnov now lives on the island with friends and is afraid of losing his job. It still offers tourists their tours.
Smirnov finds on the rocks of Valaam heroes and older than the elite of modern Russia.
“Look, like Lemminkainen and his mother,” says Smirnova on the rock.
Really. When you look to the right, the stone starts to appear a giant head of a man, and next — lean female face.
“On the exact origin of these characters is not known. Here everyone can find something of my own. We tied them with the Kalevala”.
Part of the population of Balaam lives on the island for many decades — at least since, when the island was taken of the war invalids and mentally ill people away from the eyes of Soviet citizens. The house of invalids of war and labour was closed only in the 1980s, but the staff remained.
Some of the inhabitants of the island accepted an offer to move to Sortavala, with which Balaam was administratively joined a few years ago. Others have continued to participate in legal disputes.
Now Balaam, the lives of several dozen people.
According to the official position of the Church of the Valaam monastery returned to the island to its roots, and is now developing.
“Historically, the area belongs to the monastery, and the buildings were erected for the monastery. Powerful infrastructure allows the monastery to exist, and the Karelian Republic he has no money,” — said the Secretary of the Valaam monastery Michael Shishkov.
According to representatives of the monastery, the inhabitants received the right to reside here by mistake, and now the government corrects this error. In the future the island will be only the monastery.
“Employees that are not related to the monastery, unable to come to the island only to work”.
The aim is to create a system similar to the Autonomous mount Athos, which is part of Greece. In the monasteries of mount Athos can only live the monks, and to visit the territory can be only men. To Balaam, the truth, women admit will.
“It may well be that to save the environment we have to limit the number of tourists to 80-100 thousand visitors a year. While we keep within these restrictions,” adds Shishkov.
Tourism is not a new phenomenon for Balaam.
In the 1930s to meet Orthodox monks on the island came tens of thousands of Finnish tourists. At the same time on the other side of the border monks and priests were persecuted and killed by order of Stalin.
Director of the natural Park Elena Mikhaleva is at the center of a partially dismantled the exhibition. From the ceiling hangs a huge spider, and the rock crawling snail. At the exhibition, nature Park, children can feel the bottom of lake Ladoga.
The exhibition closed because the representation of the natural Park are now forced to stop their work on Valaam.
* When I first came to the island she felt that I was home. She is one of those who chose the island, speak to Balaam.
Some of the life on the island is so depressing that they ran away. * Not one of them.
She has many years watching life rare Ladoga seals.
“They hate smoke and I love it when brushing my teeth. When researchers come ashore to brush my teeth, seals come up and spy on them, swaying on the spot.”
As an ornithologist, she likes fresh find: sea bird eider nests on lake Ladoga.
Mikhailova future is uncertain.
Her daughter runs the program for the ninth grade home because school was closed due to the fire last year.
The monastery invites the family to move to Sortavala apartment infested with mold, but there for the ornithologist there are no jobs. In Petrozavodsk to rent an apartment is very expensive.
“People get physically sick from boredom if they have to move from Balaam to the continent,” says Mikhaleva.