Staunton, February 18 – Vladimir Putin’s “optimization” program – a euphemism for massive cuts driven by budgetary stringencies has moved from closing medical facilities in villages and cities across Russia to closing institutions that if anything are even closer to the hearts of Russians: their libraries.
In the United States, the closure of a high school or a post office often marks the death of a small town. After those institutions are gone, the town disappears as a social institution. In Russia, the same thing is true of many villages. Once the village library is shuttered, the village loses its raison d’etre.
Tens of thousands of Russian villages have disappeared from the map over the last two decades, and now Putin’s program to shut down libraries in the name of saving money or handing their facilities over to private interests guarantees that even more will die out in the coming months and years.
In Udmurtia, for example, 21 such libraries have been closed since 2009; and now the powers that be are moving to close libraries in the capital city as well. Residents are angry and have pledged to “fight for each library” because with its closure, they know they will lose a key part of their cultural life (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/193391/).
The Svobodnaya pressa report from the Middle Volga could be duplicated in many other parts of the Russian Federation. But there is now a chance that the Putin regime has gone too far: it is planning to combine the historic Russian National Library in St. Petersburg with the Russian State Library there, thus closing the former cultural monument.
That has sparked a furious response by the city’s intelligentsia and its PEN Club who see the Kremlin is moving their city “along the path of barbarians” and who pledge now not to appeal to Putin as Russians tend to do but rather to mobilize the Northern Capital’s population (newizv.ru/article/general/18-02-2018/po-puti-varvarov-chto-stoit-za-planami-slit-znamenituyu-biblioteku).
Activists say that the primary cause for the closure is that wealthy friends of the president want to gain access to the land on which the library used by Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoyevsky sits, regardless of the interests of the Russian people and Russian culture. But at least some of them see another darker cause.
According to the Novyye izvestiya article, St. Petersburg is changing culturally and not in a good way. Last year, 350,000 gastarbeiters arrived there from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Few of them have much interest in Russian culture, and thus few of them care about the fate of the libraries that are at its center.
Indeed, they may be hostile to such places, the author of the article says; and he recalls how Khalif Umar explained his order to burn the library in Alexandria: “If what is written in these books is also in the Koran, there is no need for them; if what is written is different, they lie” and deserve destruction.