Minister blocks scrapping of concert agreement with St. Petersburg church

Culture minister Tiit Terik (Center).
Culture minister Tiit Terik (Center). Source: Government Office

Culture minister Tiit Terik (Center) has rejected calls from concert organizing body Eesti Kontsert to terminate its long-term agreement with an Estonian Lutheran church in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Eesti Kontsert said last week it needed to scrap the agreement with St. John's Church, following sanctions arising in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine which have made it impossible to fulfill the terms of the contract.

Eesti Kontsert falls under the culture ministry's remit.

Terik told ERR Tuesday that the ministry would not permit the agreement to be ripped up, adding that solutions were still being sought to continue operations inside the church building, located on Dekabritsov street.

Terik said: "The Ministry of Culture, as the representative of the state and the founder of the church, cannot grant this consent to Eesti Kontsert, because the cultural object is such an important and weighty matter for Estonia.

"As a result, if Eesti Kontsert would like to terminate this contract, then naturally the activities of our congregation and the Estonian community in this church would also end up being endangered," Terik continued. "It would certainly be a difficult situation to fund these activities in the context of the sanctions [against Russia]. It is important for us that all procedures for keeping St. John's Church going in St. Petersburg are in order."

"In this we will definitely cooperate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior as well as other important partners, so that the expenses and commitments we have made will be covered, and when the situation returns to normal, we will be able to continue with all our normal activities," Terik said.

"We have to look for the right options. It is also the case that not everyone working in the [Russian] bank is under sanctions, and if we have obligations, then in the interests of the Estonian community, we will also try to bear those obligations," the minister added.

At the same time, the minister did not mention possible solutions for keeping up the church building's administrative costs, which reportedly come to around €12,000 per month.

When asked for comment, Andri Maimets, PR chief at Eesti Kontsert, said the organization had nothing to add to what Terik had already said.

Eesti Kontsert's CEO Kertu Orro said last week that after 12 years of holding concerts in the church, the organization had no choice but to terminate its contract with the congregation of St. John's Church, as it can no longer fulfill its contractual obligations on site at the church building.

Terik said at the time that the state is seeking solutions that would allow for activity at the church to continue, but that sanctions impeding the cross-border movement of money between Estonia and Russia complicate things.

Eesti Kontsert ceased its concert activity at St. John's Church on May 2. Its agreement gives it the right to use the facility for 49 years, though this includes maintaining and investing in the building.

The Estonian state has already invested €10 million into the churches' restoration.

St. John's was founded in 1859 to serve the Estonian community living and working in the city at a time when Estonia was still part of the Tsarist empire.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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