Стадион Санкт-Петербург, the World Cup, and the image of Petersburg in Russia (Sprinkle-Маркович)

On the 22 of June, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to see a game of the 2017 Confederations Cup, hosted in Russia as a trial run of sorts for the World Cup next summer. Held in the Стадион Санкт-Петербург, one of twelve constructed all over (European) Russia for the event, it made a statement about the contrast between history and modernity as competing views of what St. Petersburg ought emphasise.

In the post-Soviet period, Russia has rehabilitated its imperial history: restoring monuments, reverting Soviet names to their predecessors, and proudly looking to establish continuity with the pre-revolutionary period. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in St. Petersburg, where all of the imperial history has become a focus for tourism and Russian pride. The city is marketed as a cultural capital in the European tradition, with all of the palaces, artwork, and sordid tales that implies.

This sets up tensions with people interested in the continuing growth and development of St. Petersburg as a modern city. We watched a documentary made by a previous student on this programme to familiarise the Russian students with whom we’re collaborating with the nature of our projects. The subject was the Gazprom Tower (now called the Lakhta Centre), which was originally intended for the middle of the city and was later moved due to claims that a 450-metre building would disrupt the skyline and atmosphere of historic St. Petersburg. It’s now under construction just across the channel from where the stadium sits, and ought to be finished by the beginning of the World Cup if all goes according to plan.

Which brings us back to the event itself. When we left the Крестовский остров metro station, we walked a mile or so to the stadium, which towers over the western end of the island. With a sleek, modern bridge across the Malaya and Bolshaya Nevka rivers just behind it and the skeletal framework of the Lakhta Centre in the background, one can see why this sort of massive, modern development had people worried about the heritage of the city. At the same time, things such as hosting the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2018 World Cup are a chance for Russia to show off that it’s not going back to the tsarist history because it’s lacking in direction in the modern era. The government is anxious to demonstrate that the country is capable of being a great power again, not just geopolitically but also in terms of cultural and economic relevance.

At the moment, development like this is much more common in Moscow. But as Russia continues to (hopefully) become more economically stable, questions about how to expand St. Petersburg without sacrificing its history will become harder to answer.