Staunton, Mar. 10 – Those who studied the Soviet Union 50 years ago were profoundly affected by Bertram Wolf’s 1969 article in Survey, “Krupskaya Purges the People’s Libraries,” in which he showed the ways in which this early Soviet destruction of libraries led to the degradation of Russian culture and the rise of totalitarianism.
Those observing Russia today and even more those living there should be equally or perhaps even more disturbed by a trend that has passed under the radar screen of many: the ways in which the Putin regime is promoting what they call “the de-library-ization” of that country and the consequent destruction of Russian culture.
This policy has three prongs, commentator Aleksandr Mazritsky says, in a passionate denunciation of it on the Regnum news agency portal. First and most obviously, it includes the closure or amalgamation of libraries not only in rural areas but in major cities in order to save the government money (regnum.ru/news/cultura/3530011.html).
Second, it involves the transformation of libraries where Russians can go to read books and journals into entertainment centers, places where the primary focus is not on the printed word or even electronic access to it but rather games and entertainment, a focus that is destroying even those places which are still called libraries.
And third, in a patent effort to hide what it is doing, the Putin regime’s cultural officials are requiring librarians to spend so much time preparing reports to the government about their activities that those who actually work in the remaining libraries have insufficient time to defend these centers of culture.
Unless all three of these vectors of attack are changed, Mazritsky says, the future of Russian libraries and thus of Russian culture is bleak; and as those things deteriorate so too does the national culture on which the national security of the country that the Kremlin talks so much about depends.
Meanwhile, as a result of sanctions, Russian access to printed materials is taking another hit. Most of the coated paper publishers of illustrated books and magazines use comes from abroad, and now those supplies have been stopped because of Putin’s war in Ukraine (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5251272).
Russian publishers hope to purchase supplies of this kind of paper from China and some are willing to buy the production of domestic companies although they view the output of these as distinctly inferior to the European kind. At the very least, they say, prices for printed matter in Russia are going to rise, putting ever more publications beyond the reach of ordinary Russians.
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