Staunton, November 21 – Yesterday, Vladimir Putin issued a decree abolishing Rospechat and Rossvyaz and folding their responsibilities into the digital development ministry (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/64445), a move many in the book world say doesn’t bode well because Rospechat officials read books and cared about the book trade.
Rospechat was created in 2004 in place of the disbanded Russian ministry for the print media, TV and radio, and mass communications. It has never been a censor but instead has involved itself with protecting book publishers and promoting Russian books at home and abroad.
The MBK news agency asked three Russians involved in the book business – Konstantin Milchin, chef editor of Storytel, Boris Kupriyanov, one of the creators of the Falanster bookstore, and Mikhail Kotomin, editor in chief at the Ad Marginem publishing house – for their reactions to Putin’s move (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/rospechat-bye/).
Milchin says that Rospechat did not do everything people in the book trade wanted, but its officials did promote books. Equally important, they avoided becoming censors or restricting book publishing. The positive in that regard is obvious if one compares what Rospechat did with books with what the culture ministry has done in films.
At a time when the Kremlin is tightening the screws ever more in ever more places, he continues, “the book industry has remained a little island of non-interference.” That is no small thing, and there is a risk that the new bureaucratic lash up will not adopt a similar approach in the future.
Kupriyanov says that most people are quick to criticize officialdom; but he insists that if Rospechat had not existed, “the situation would have been significantly worse.” Its officials have been peole “who read books, love them, and publish them” and have taken the lead in getting Russia into the international book exhibition network.
Obviously, with the pandemic and budgetary stringency, such agencies were going to be cut and combined, he acknowledges. One can only hope that the values which have informed Rospechat over the last 15 years will continue to inform the Russian government in dealing with the hard-pressed book sector.
But Kotomin says that he was not especially troubled by the change given that as an independent publisher, he has had little contact with Rospechat and because in his view that structure has long ceased to be a spokesman for the industry in the halls of power. Consequently, it is possible that any change will be an improvement.
At the same time, he continues, he would have putting book publishing under the culture ministry as libraries are, given that both the one and the other are part of the Gutenberg universe. But he adds that “the main problem is that the powers do not know what to do with book affairs and periodically forget about them.”
Those in power aren’t reading books on a daily basis, and as a result, those who lobby the interests of book publishing and distribution face an increasingly steep uphill battle.