On 5 November 1929 the first planetarium in Russia was opened. The Moscow Planetarium was the 13th planetarium in the world, it was built only 6 years after the "Wonder of Jena" was opened in Munich. The Planetarium was an important ideological object. Its task was to spread the scientific knowledge and to become a centre of the anti-religious propaganda. One of the first lecture held there was titled "Was the world created in six days?". During the WWII, the planetarium was used as a learning center for pilots. Later, in 1960s, cosmonauts also spent a lot of time there, studying astronomy. In 1977, the new planetarium hardware made by Karl Zeiss Jena was installed. It included 119 lamps that produced images of 5400 moving stellar objects.
It was one of the largest planetaria in the world: 27 meters in diameter. In 1929, it took only one year to finish the construction. Now, the reconstruction has already taken more than 13 years and the end is not even near. The events that took place around the Planetarium, deserve to be described by Mikhail Bulgakov, so weird they are.
In the Soviet years, the Planetarium belonged to the All-Union Society "Znanie" (Knowledge). In 1994 a closed corporation "Moscovsky Planetariy" was established. The largest shareholder was a company named Twinz. It belonged to someone Mikitasov, a show-biz producer. It was the first time in post-Soviet Russia when an educational institution was handed over to a private company. In the next two years the building of the planetarium was sometimes used for fashion shows and paintball matches, but the planetarium itself continued its work. The hardware was in good condition, but the building was deteriorating. In 1994 the building was closed for reconstruction. The Moscow government questioned the rights of Twinz, but the court decided that there were no violations of the law and Twinz remained the owner of the building. In 1998, Twinz suddenly agreed to pass 61% of shares to the Moscow government. In 1999 the reconstruction plan was developed, but it was not approved by the Moscow authorities, who were afraid that too many entertainment might hurt the planetarium. It was planned that the reconstruction should be finished in 2006, but in 2006 (or 2007, it was difficult to find out exactly) the Moscow authorities stopped further financing. The work was frozen.
Now, a detective story begins. Of course, during all those years there was no profit from the planetarium. The Moscow government announced that the debt of the corporation "Moskovsky Planetariy" is 1.7 billion rubles (the sum invested by Moscow). On 11 March 2008, on a shareholder meeting, the authorities proposed to dismiss Mikitasov. It's not clear whether the decision was approved, because both sides demonstrate two different versions of the meeting's record. On 25 March the court decided the further examination is necessary and the decision should be postponed till May. On the next day, 26 March, a group of armed people in uniform attacked the planetarium, beat the guards and occupied the building. They confiscated all documents and computers. The web-site of the planetarium was down. Soon, a new director arrived. He promised that the reconstruction would be finished in 2008 and the planetarium will resume its normal activities. In May 2008, the corporation "Moskovsky Planetariy" was officially recognized a bankrupt. They appealed, but in October the court rejected the appeal, ruling that Mikitasov was dismissed in March by the shareholder meeting. The reconstruction is still frozen, the new owners are reviewing the reconstruction plan. Now they promise that the work will be over in September 2009, when the 80th anniversary of the planetarium will be celebrated. It's not yet clear, though, whether they will resume the work or the land lot will be simply sold. The site is located in one of the most commecially valuable districts of Moscow.
A conflict between "the spirit of free entrepreneurship" and the state? Or the war for money between two clans? Either way, this is one of those things why for almost one half of Russians the word "capitalism" is still insulting.
In the meanwhile, Russian ministry of education decided that our schoolchildren do not need astronomy and excluded this subject from the list of obligatory subjects in Russian schools.