Officials Restrict Entrance to Historic Moscow Cemetery
MOSCOW (AP) _ City officials have again closed the capital’s historic Novodevichy Cemetery to the general public, limiting entrance to delegations approved by the Central Moscow Excursion Bureau.
The walled cemetery that is the nation’s most prestigious burial place after the Kremlin Wall had been a popular strolling place for Muscovites and visitors to the capital since it was reopened in February 1987 after being closed for more than a decade.
Nikita S. Khrushchev, dictator Josef V. Stalin’s wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, and numerous artists, writers, military heroes and scientists are buried in the cemetery adjacent to Novodevichy Convent, where Peter the Great locked up his sister, Sophia, in the 17th century.
″I went there on Sunday with my girlfriend and they told us we couldn’t go in,″ complained a 42-year-old Moscow woman. ″I thought it was supposed to be a public place again.″
A marble sign has been bolted to a red brick gatepost at the entrance, announcing that those interested in visiting the premises should apply to the city excursion bureau.
A policeman standing guard at the cemetery on Monday said the Moscow City Council decided in December to restrict access ″to maintain better order.″ But he said he was unaware of any incidents at the cemetery that would have prompted the closure.
At the Moscow City Council’s Office of Municipal Services, a deputy director who declined to identify herself confirmed Tuesday that access has been restricted to members of approved groups holding excursion tickets, which cost the eqivalent of about 50 cents each.
She said she did not know how many groups were permitted at the cemetery each week or why the restrictions were imposed.
The pre-revolutionary Russian nobility and Soviet literati buried at Novodevichy are remembered with an array of ornate headstones, including larger-than-life statues of deceased cosmonauts in granite spacesuits and generals shouting orders.
An aircraft designer’s headstone bears a propeller, the statue atop a communications official’s grave has him posed with a telephone to his ear, and a marble bust of Stalin’s wife, who took her own life at age 31 in 1932, stares sorrowfully from within a glass case.
The most popular headstone at the sprawling cemetery in southwest Moscow is the Ernst Neizvestny sculpture depicting Khrushchev. The grave was regularly adorned with evergreen wreaths and mounds of fresh and artificial flowers in the past year, presumably by visitors sympathetic with the reforms he attempted before he was ousted from the leadership in 1964 by his successor, Leonid I. Brezhnev.
A secretary at the cemetery said there were no ″political motives″ for restricting access to the burial ground enclosed by a high brick wall and graced with birch and evergreen trees among the rows of graves.
Khrushchev’s grave drew crowds of onlookers after his death in 1971, angering Brezhnev, who eventually ordered the cemetery closed in the mid- 1970s.
The reopening in February was announced in Moscow city newspapers. The national cultural organ Sovietskaya Kultura had campaigned for public access to the cemetery, arguing that its memorials constitute a history museum and a repository of some of the best Russian sculpture.