Valery Pshenichny: Tortured, Then Murdered

ByEkK6EZL1H45U3VA1r3Businessman Valery Pshenichny did not kill himself in his cell in a Petersburg remand prison, as the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service has claimed. 

Tortured, Then Murdered
Irina Tumakova
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Petersburg
April 16, 2018

Valery Pshenichny, a defendant in the case of embezzlement at the Defense Ministry in connection with the building of a submarine at the Admiralty Shipyards in Petersburg, did not die from a lack of medical care. He did not take his own life. He was not tormented by abominable living conditions, something the wardens arrange for other inmates. He was simply tortured and then murdered, and his murderers did not even try to hide their tracks. This was the unambiguous verdict reached by the Petersburg Bureau of Forensic Medical Examiners, thus ruling out the possibility of suicide.

Novaya Gazeta wrote in February about the businessman’s strange death at Petersburg Remand Prison No. 4. Valery Pshenichny stood accused of embezzling money from a Defense Ministry contract for construction of the submarine Varshavyanka. His company, NovIT Pro, was developing a 3D computer model of the submarine for servicing the craft after it was sold. In 2016, Pshenichny, who owns the company, suspected his partner and company director Andrei Petrov had stolen millions in funds from the firm’s accounts and persuaded police to open a criminal investigation. Petrov was arrested. After several months in police custody, Petrov testified the embezzlers were Pshenichny himself and Gleb Yemelchenkov, a deputy head engineer at Admiralty Shipyards. Allegedly, they had colluded and deliberately overstated the cost of the contract. Investigators determined how much the contract should actually be worth, based on their own calculations.

Petrov was released while the new suspects were arrested. Three weeks later, Pshenichny was found hanged in his cell. Before the incident, his cellmates had been removed simultaneously from the cell under various pretexts. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service insisted Pshenichny had committed suicide, while his loved ones accused prison wardens of not giving him medical care after he had suffered a stroke.

The forensic examination was completed last week. Now we can establish what happened.

Don’t Pay Anyone Anything
Pshenichny shared a cell with three other inmates. At around two in the afternoon on February 5, 2018, two of the inmates were taken to talk to police investigators, while the third was taken to a meeting with his lawyer. CCTV footage shows Pshenichny was removed from the cell fifteen minutes later. He did not leave the remand prison. We do not know how long he was gone from his cell, where he was during this time, what condition he was in when he returned to his cell, and who was with him.  But after four o’clock in the afternoon a guard escorted his cellmate back to the cell and found Pshenichny hanged. An electrical cord torn from a water boiler and the destroyed sneakers of a cellmate lay near his body. Prison wardens explained Pshenichny had tried to slash his wrists with the arch support from the sneakers, but had failed. He then tore the cord from the water boiler, hoping to electrocute himself. Finally, he pulled the lace from his hooded sweatshirt and hanged himself.

A graduate of the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute, Valery Pshenichny was an engineer. He would hardly have attempted to use a 220-volt current to kill himself. The lace from his hooded sweatshirt was forty centimeters long. It would have been impossible to hang himself with this length of lace. And everyone who knew Pshenichny is unanimous. The last thing this strong, cheerful man used to winning would have done was given up and taken his own life.

“My husband and I were together for forty years, since our first year at the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute,” says Natalya Pshenichnya. “I’d never met such an intelligent, striking, strong positive person before. I’m not exaggerating. He was confident in himself and the stance he took. He knew he was innocent, and he was not afraid of anything.”

An incitement to suicide investigation was opened. But then rumors flew around the remand prison that all staff members had been made to submit sperm samples for analysis.

Cuts and stab wounds were found on Pshenichny’s body. His spine was broken. Simply put, he was tortured. Forensic experts have identified blunt trauma to the neck and asphyxiation as the causes of death. Translated into Russian, this means Pshenichny was strangled with the forty-centimeter-long lace from his own hood. Tests showed it was not remand prison staff who raped him. Most likely, someone from the outside was sicced on Pshenichny to have his way with him.

None of the businessman’s intimates can imagine what the cause of this stupid brutality could be. However, before his death, Pshenichny managed to pass a note to his wife in which he asked three times not to give money to anyone.

“Don’t pay anyone anything,” he wrote.

A Russian Elon Musk
The work for which, according to investigators, Pshenichny artificially inflated the price, was completely unique. Nobody in the world had done anything like it before. In the future, it could have generated new opportunities not only in shipbuilding, but also for oil and gas companies. NovIT Pro had been negotiating with Gazprom and Rosneft to produce similar designs.

Friends dubbed Pshenichny a Russian Elon Musk. The talk was that he was not only a brilliant engineer but also a maverick genius whose risks paid off sooner or later.

“He arrived in Leningrad to enroll at the institute carrying a tiny suitcase,” Natalya Pshenichnaya continues. “He had nothing. No one helped him, he was a self-made man. At the institute, he was the most talented student in our year. Things came easily for him, but he was a hard worker. Intelligent, cultured, well-read, he could talk with you about any subject. He would immediately pick it up. Sometimes, I would ask him how he knew something. He would laugh and say, ‘It’s obvious.'”

The student with the tiny suitcase eventually became the owner of a major IT company. NovIT Pro occupies two floors in a building on a corner of the Moika River Embankment and Palace Square in downtown Petersburg, and it has worked on defense procurement orders for many years. Staff say that when investigators arrived to search NovIT Pro’s offices in January, they laughed at first. It was clear this was a fly-by-night firm, they said, joking the place had three desks and one and a half diggers. Then they went down to the floor below and were shocked when they saw a large engineering center.


Admiralty Shipyards

One of Pshenichny’s breathtaking ideas was the selfsame 3D digital model of the submarine. He came up with idea back in 2011 after attending the Naval Salon. NovIT Pro had previously worked on orders from the Defense Ministry for seperate units and parts of ships. But nobody had ever produced a virtual model of an entire ship. Technical specs are attached to each part of the computer model, and mechanics can have access to repair documentation and blueprints wherever the ship is deployed. But it was not this design Pshenichny had planned to patent.

As Novaya Gazeta reported, the contract was signed in 2015. But then Pshenichny went even further in his thinking. What if he could make it possible to carry out repairs of the boat remotely as well? After all, no one knows how far from the shipyards where it was built the submarine will be when it needs servicing, and the specialists capable of doing the repairs all work in Petersburg at the Admiralty Shipyards. The idea of mobile repair centers thus arose.

The mobile data center for the Varshavyanka is a room the size of two railway container cars put together. It can be quickly delivered to anywhere the ship is deployed. The technician from the nearest shipyard enters the room and finds himself inside the submarine as it were. He сan produce a cross section of the ship at any point and peer into any compartment of the ship. He communicates in real time with specialists at the Admiralty Shipyards, who see the same picture as he does in the stationary center in Petersburg. This idea had no impact on the cost of the contract. Pshenichny decided to implement it using the funds approved for the contract. He was curious.

Pshenichny was planning to patent the idea for the mobile center, but he did not have the time. On January 16, investigators came to search his company and his home, and he was arrested. All documentation, including the documentation needed to apply for the patent, was confiscated and entered into evidence. It is currently in the hands of investigators.

All You Need Now Is a Grave Two Meters Deep
“When they came to search our home, those men looked at my husband’s suits in the closet and immediately said, ‘Well, you won’t be needing any of that anymore,'” Natalya Pshenichnaya says. “The investigator said that now all he needed was a grave two meters deep.”

Pshenichnaya had suffered a stroke a few years ago. The doctor had told him a second stroke would be his last. Since then, Natalya had been afraid to worry her husband unnecessarily. During the search of their home, his blood pressure jumped to 250 over 140. She begged the investigator to call an ambulance, but he refused. The police asked her only to confirm whether her husband was really in danger of a stroke. Natalya found her husband’s medical records and handed them over to the investigator. Both she and Pshenichny’s lawyer Larisa Fon-Arev say these medical records were not listed in the search inventory. Moreover, during Pschenichny’s custody hearing, the defense asked the court to order house arrest for Pshenichny or release him on his own recognizance, citing the accused man’s  health, but it transpired that the medical records, confiscated during the search, had not been entered into evidence.


The submarine Varshavyanka

It is unclear what happened to Pshenichny at the remand prison. It is clear he was tortured, that is. A wealthy man who was visited by his lawyer nearly every day was tortured. But then he was killed, and his killers did not even bother to hide their tracks, attempting to get off by making up a lie about his suicide.

What did they want from Pshenichny? Perhaps they were trying to extort money from him, because, as we have already mentioned, he wrote to this wife that she should not pay anyone. Maybe they wanted to force Pshenichny to testify, but in that case it is unclear against whom. As Novaya Gazeta has reported, Pshenichny could not have turned on anyone because he was confident the contract was clean, and to this day no new defendants have been named in the embezzlement case.

Gleb Yemelchenkov, the deputy chief engineer at the Admiralty Shipyards, was Pshenichny’s co-defendant in the case. Yemelchenkov had no financial authority and could not have unduly influenced the contract. He was arrested and charged in the case only due to Petrov’s testimony: he and Petrov had fallen out over Yemelchenkov’s wife. Yemelchenkov is still jailed in the remand prison. The term of his detention was extended to May.

Thanks to Julia Galkina et al. for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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“Hunger, Thirst, Sexual Attraction, Etc.”: Russia’s Federal Archives

“[Title] Russia Federal Archival Agency (Rosarkhiv), Extended Meeting. || [Upper right] 2017 Totals: 103, 823 visits / 15,681 [remote] users || [Center left] Users of information services in the archives (violet=reading room visits; turquoise=remote users): 2014 – 108,739 visits and 2,017,561 remote users; 2015 – 108,739 visitors and 3,559,692 remote users; 2016 – 106,080 visits and 2,618,295 remote users; 2017 – 550,000 [sic] visits and 2,753,585 remote users. || [Bottom right] Visits to federal archive reading rooms: 2014 – 108,739 visits; 2015 – 107,609; 2016 – 106,089; 2017 – 103,823. || [Pyramid, from bottom rung to peak ] Users / Visits. 1. (hunger, thirst, sexual attraction, etc.); 2. RGIA (Russian State Historical Archive, Petersburg): 24,010 / 5,885; 3. GARF (State Archive of the Russian Federation, Moscow): 17,753 / 2,821; 4. RGADA (Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents, Moscow): 11,900 / 1,560; 5. RGALI (Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow): 10,162 / 1,416; 6. RGASPI (Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, Moscow): 9,473 / 1,088; 7. RGVIA (Russian State Military History Archive, Moscow): 7,688 / 1,092; 8. RGVA (Russian State Military Archive, Moscow): 4,929 / 1,838; 9. RGAE (Russian State Archive of the Economy, Moscow): 4,742 / 797; 10. RGAVMF (Russian State Archive of the Navy, Petersburg): 4,431 / 603; 11. RGAKFD (Russian State Film and Photo Archive, Krasnogorsk, Moscow Region): 3,659 / 891; 12. RGIA DV (Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East, Vladivostok): 1,957 / 188; 13. Russian State Archive in Samara: 8,900 / 269; 14. RGANTD (Russian State Archive for Scientific-Technical Documentation, Mosow): 220 / 93; 15. RGAFD (Russian State Archive of Sound Recordings, Moscow): 102 / 40; 16. RGANI (Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, Moscow): 0 / 0; 17. TsKhSF (Insurance Fund Storage Center, Yalutorovsk, Tyumen Region): —.”

Kirill Belousov
Facebook
March 23, 2018

“Hunger, thirst, sexual attraction, etc.”

This strange slide is posted on the Russian Federal Archive Agency’s official website in a section [containing the text of a report delivered by the agency’s director, A.N. Artizov, to an extended intra-agency meeting on March 20, 2018].

The bottom rung of the pyramid contains the words in the headline of my post, while the upper rungs contain information about the number of people accessing and visiting Russia’s federal archives. The people who made the slide were probably in a hurry and did not tidy up the pyramid before publishing it.

My attention was drawn to the fact that the number of visits to the reading rooms of federal archives has dropped considerably, from 108,700 visits, in 2014, to 103,800 visits, in 2017.

Source: http://archives.ru/reporting/report-artizov-2018-kollegia.shtml

#Rosarkhiv #RussianArchives

Thanks to Alexei Kouprianov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s Working Poor

Employed and Poor
Andrei Bespalov
Takie Dela
December 13, 2017

According to official statistics, at least ten million Russians work hard all their lives but cannot escape poverty. 

Russia has no clear criteria for poverty. The concept is absent from Russian legislation. There are poor people throughout the world, but not in Russia. We vaguely define them as “low income,” meaning people whose income is below the subsistence level. Each region of Russia has its own subsistence level. For example, for a person of working age to make it for a month in Omsk Region, he or she needs at least 9,683 rubles [approx. 140 euros]. In Moscow, the minimum income is twice as high: 18,472 rubles [approx. 267 euros]. If your income is lower than the officially approved subsistence level, you are living below the poverty line. True, this in no way mean you cannot be paid less this same minimum for your work. You can indeed be paid less: if your monthly wage exceeds the minimum wage at least by one kopeck. Currently, the minimum monthly wage in Russia is 7,800 rubles [approx. 113 euros].

Story No. 1: Olga
We imagine you have go looking for poor people far from Moscow, and the farther you get from Moscow, the more flagrant poverty you will encounter. It is not true. There are large numbers of people living below the poverty line in the capital. I should emphasize that, in this case, we are talking Russian nationals, not about migrant workers from the former Soviet republics.

Take Olga. She works in a lab at Moscow Medical University. In her fifteen years there, she has risen from senior lab assistant to head of the lab. Olga’s monthly salary is 12,000 rubles [approx. 173 euros], and it is her entire income.

True, she gets the occasional bonus, but they come “a little more often than once in a lifetime.” Ordinary lab employees are paid 11,000 rubles a month [approx. 159 euros]. Such salaries are hardly a rarity in Moscow.

Olga was educated as a programmer. She graduated from Bauman Technical University, but she has not worked as a programmer for a long time. She believes she cannot catch up and has lost her qualifications. Olga worked as a programmer before her children were born. Her family had enough money for everything, and besides, she had the opportunity to earn money part-time. When her maternal leave was up, she was unable to go back to her old job: her department has been disbanded. She was able get the job in the lab at Moscow Medical. Olga likes everything about the job—her colleagues respect her, and her work team gets along well with each other—except the salary. Management occasionally permits her to work from home. This is good for Olga: she does not have to spend money on commuting. (Olga lives in Moscow Region, not in the city.) This comes to around 300 rubles [approx. 4 euros] a day for the trip to the city and back on the commuter train and a round trip on the subway to the university.

When her children were small, Olga did not try and find better-paid work, and when they were older, she tried, but was turned down everywhere she applied. To her surprise, she realized no one wanted to hire a woman in her forties.

“First, you can’t find work because of the children, who are constantly ill, and then you can’t find work due to your age. Although what age are talking about? I’m forty-five!”

Olga had wound up in the category of people with no prospects. The only place she could get a job was a school. Olga worked there for several years before quitting. She had never been offered a full-time position, and her monthly salary of 6,000 rubles [approx. 87 rubles] was only enough to pay for her commute.

“I don’t want to leave these folks. It’s easy working with professors. They are quite cultured, decent people. It would be a pity to quit the job. I feel I’ve become a highly qualified specialist over the last fifteen years,” said Olga.

If it were not for her husband, a programmer, she would have a hard time feeding them and their two children. The family of four’s overall income is above the subsistence level, if only by a little. It comes to around 80,000 rubles [approx. 1,155 euros] a month. (The per capita subsistence level in Moscow is 18,472 rubles, meaning Olga and her family make around 7,000 rubles more in total than the subsistence level.) It was their good fortunate both her sons were admitted to university as full scholarship students. Olga and her husband would definitely not have been able to pay their tuition.

Olga’s family took out loans to improve their living conditions. They started out in a room in a communal flat and, after several steps, moved into their own two-room flat. However, they had to rent housing for three years, since construction of their apartment building had been postponed. Renting meant additional expenses. Subsequently, Olga had to take oout a loan to fix up the flat in order to move in as quickly as possible. That was five years ago. Of the original loan of 500,000 rubles, they still have 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,300 euros] to pay off. The monthly minimum payment is 20,000 rubles [approx. 290 euros].

In her free time, Olga tries to earn extra money by knitting. She says she is very good at it. But she is unable to supplement her salary by more than 4,000 or 5,000 rubles a month, and this happens extremely irregularly. Olga says a master knitter would have to work all month without taking a break to earn that kind of money. Everyone likes the things Olga knits, but people are willing to buy them if they do not cost more than mass-produced Chinese goods, that is, they are willing to pay the price of the yarn. Olga is not ready to give up her job at the university.

It’s Unique
The poverty experienced by employed people harms the economy and hinders its growth. This was the conclusion reached by the Russian Government’s Analytical Center in a report published in October 2017.

“The poverty of workers generates a number of negative economic and social consequences, affecting productivity and quality of work, shortages of personnel in the production sector, especially manual laborers, the health of the population, and educational opportunities,” wrote the report’s authors.

Olga Golodets, deputy prime minister for social affairs, has spoken of the fact that the working poor have no stake in increasing productivity. Judging by a number of recent speeches, the authorities are aware that grassroots poverty threatens the country. Golodets called poverty among the working populace a unique phenomenon in the social sector. A uniquely negative phenomenon, naturally.

Story No. 2: Nadezhda
Nadezhda works as a history teacher at a technical school in Barnaul. She has been teaching for twenty-seven years, and her monthly salary is 12,000 rubles [approx. 170 euros]. Nadezhda has been named Teacher of the Year several times. The regional education and science ministry awarded her a certificate of merit for “supreme professionalism and many years of conscientious work.”

Nadezhda works with a cohort of students that includes many orphans and adolescents with disabilities: the visually impaired, the hard of hearing, and the deaf and dumb. It happens that her class load is as much as eight lessons a day.

Nadezha and her eleven-year-old son share a room in the technical school’s dormitory. Nadezhda has been on the waiting list to improve her living conditions for fifteen years.

“Last year, I was ninety-fourth on the list. This year, I’m ninety-first. At this rate, I can expect to get a flat in thirty years or so,” she said.

Nadezhda thought long and hard about applying for a mortgage, but she decided against it, although the bank had approved a loan of one million rubles [approx. 14,500 euros]. But what income would she have used to pay back the loan, when the monthly payment would have been 21,000 rubles?

In Altai Territory, where Barnaul is located, 12,000 rubles is above the subsistence minimum, which has been set at 10,002 rubles for the able-bodied population. In addition, the state pays Nadezhda’s son a monthly survivor’s pension of 8,300 rubles after the death of his father. Officials cite this as grounds for rejecting her request that her son should receive additional social benefits. The family’s monthly budget is 20,000 rubles, so they should be living high on the hog from the official viewpoint, apparently.

In 2013, Nadezhda suffered a severe concussion involving partial loss of hearing and eyesight. She was struck by a student high on drugs, she said. She spent over two months in the hospital. Ever since then, she has had to take pills that run her 3,000 rubles a month.

“Working with classes in which there are many orphans is not easy at all. They demand your constant, undivided attention. When I say ‘demand,’ I mean ‘demand,’ and they get that attention. But then conflicts arise with the parents of other children: the class doesn’t consist entirely of orphans. They say I don’t give their kids enough attention.”

Over the course of her life, Nadezhda has never been able to earn enough money to buy a standard 600 square meter dacha plot. Thanks to her former father-in-law, however, she grows vegetables on his plot.

“I hear the call to be a patriot from every radio, TV set, and kitchen appliance. What are you going on about, guys? I have been humiliated my entire life, paid crumbs for a difficult, responsible job. I’m hit on the head by students, and they go unpunished. I’m told to quit if it doesn’t suit me: no one is holding me back. They tell me they will find a way to evict me from the dormitory, although they are unlikely to succeed as long as my son is a minor. I’m a teacher of the highest category, with a certificate of merit from the education ministry. Our family income exceeds the minimum subsistence income by 700 rubles, meaning that officially we are not poor. Thank you very much, it makes life so much easier.”

A Trend
Since 2005, the poverty level in Russia has decreased threefold, note the authors of the study. At the same time, they write, “We cannot recognize as normal circumstances in which over ten million employed people have incomes that do not allow them to provide decent living conditions not only for themselves, but for their families.”

The researchers at the Russian Government’s Analytical Center have noticed a trend in recent years. There have been more people working in needy families, but “this has not vouchsafed their exit from poverty.”

Story No. 3: Igor
Igor Kurlyandsky, a PhD in history and senior researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, cannot be categorized as belonging to the working poor. His monthly salary exceeds the minimum subsistence income for someone living and working in Moscow by 600 rubles. His monthly after-tax income is 19,300 rubles [approx. 279 euros]. There are freelance jobs, of course, but they are irregular and do not change Igor’s circumstances for the better.

“Generally, the salaries at the institute are pitiful. Doctors of Science and senior employees are not paid much more than I am, three or four thousand rubles more,” Kurlyandsky said.

FANO (Federal Agency for Scientific Organizations) is supposed to pay quarterly bonuses based on performance indices, for example, academic publications. But this year, according to Kurlyandsky, FANO has not paid out any of these bonuses, and it has canceled old bonuses as well.

“It’s wrong to demand that scholars publish frequently. They might work for a year in the archives, collecting material for future academic articles. Or they might take several years to write a book. I worked for four years on a book about the relationship between the regime and religion during the Stalin era. I will not be paid a fee for the book. I might get a salary bonus for it from FANO. But whatever it is, if you divided it by four years, it would amount to kopecks. The institute has nothing to do with selling books. Authors earn nothing except complimentary copies.”

According to Kurlyandsky, the Institute of Russian History, one of the principal historical research institutions in Russia, with many wonderful scholars on its staff, is itself a beggar.

“It literally has no money for anything. The state hardly finances it. Of course, for many years, its fellows can travel for business only at the expense of host institutions.”

“If memory serves me, the last time researchers got a raise was around fifteen years ago. Life becomes more expensive, but our salaries stay the same. Over this period there were several spikes in inflation, but our salaries were not indexed. I have to skimp on lots of things,” Kurlyandsky confessed.

Where Are There More Poor People?
If you look at the situation by sector, the majority of the working poor are employed in housing services and utilities, education, culture and sports, agriculture, forestry, and a number of other sectors. The sectors with the fewest working poor are the resource extraction industries, finance, public administration, the military-industrial complex, and social security administration.

Generally, the statistics say that, since 2005, the number of working poor has decreased from eight million to two million, and the percentage of poor people from 24.4% to 7.3%, and this has occurred mainly due to the private sector, not the public sector.

Story No. 4: Svetlana
Forty-four years old, Svetlana works as a senior librarian. She arrived at the library immediately after graduating from a teacher’s college. Twenty years on the job, Svetlana has a huge amount of experience and a monthly salary of 8,300 rubles [approx. 120 euros].

“When I was a student, I imagine my future job as a perfect idyll: silence, lamps glowing on the tables, people reading, and me bringing enlightenment to the masses. It’s funny to remember it. I didn’t think about the money then, of course, but nowadays it’s the thought with which I wake up and go to sleep. My husband teaches at a university and makes a little over 14,000 rubles [approx. 200 rubles] a month. We have two sons in school. My dad is quite unwell, and my husband’s mom and dad are also quite ill. So we earn our 23,000 rubles a month and divide it among seven people. Among seven people, because my dad and my husband’s parents have pitiful pensions, public pensions, despite the fact they worked in factories for thirty years. It’s my perennial puzzle. What should we buy? Medicine for the elderly? Shoes for the kids? Pay off part of the debt we owe on the residential maintenance bill? Buy decent trousers for my husband? I haven’t given myself a thought for a long while. Honestly, I wear blouses and skirts for ten years or so before replacing them. I can’t recall the last time I bought cosmetics.

“Earlier, we bore our poverty more easily, maybe because we were younger. So what there was nothing to eat with evening tea? Who cared that we dressed modestly? It was a style of sorts. We tried to make sure the children had better shoes and clothes.

“The most terrible thing right now is not that we are paid kopecks. My husband used to believe we would struggle through, that we would work off our debt. But then he burnt out. He forces himself to go to work. The children are perpetually dissatisfied, and our parents are always ill. Only I don’t pretend it’s okay, that everyone lives like this. I have caught myself sizing up how people are dressed on public transport, and at the store I look into their baskets. What fruits, meat, and wines they buy! We are always eating buckwheat groats with bits of chicken and meatless soups. I hate the dacha, but it really does put food on our table.

“I have no prospects. I won’t live long enough to be promoted to head librarian, because our head librarian is my age. I lack the strength for side jobs. My real job is not easy: there is lots of scribbling involved. Plus, we divvied up the jobs of the cleaning woman and  janitors, so we either mop the floor or chop ice on the pavement. I crawl home barely alive. Frankly, I don’t see how my life could change, and I’m used to it. What worries me is my sons’ future. I’m horrified when I think that soon they will be applying to university. What if they don’t get full scholarships? We definitely don’t have the money to pay for their educations. So it turns out we have doomed our boys to the same poverty.”

It’s Shameful to Admit
Nearly everyone with whom I spoke when writing this article asked me not to use their real names and places of work. They all made the same argument. First, it is shameful to admit you work for mere kopecks. Second, their bosses would be unhappy and punish them for “disclosing information discrediting the organization.” Many of my interviewees actually had signed such non-disclosure agreements, entitled “Code of Ethics,” at work.

All illustrations courtesy of the artist, Natalia Gulay, and Takie Dela. Translated by the Russian Reader

________________________________

Labor ministry: about 13% of Russian population live below poverty line
TASS
December 28, 2017

The number of citizens with incomes below the minimum cost of living is around 20 million people, according to the Russian labor minister

The incomes of about 13% of Russia’s population are lower than the minimum cost of living, Labor Minister Maxim Topilin said in an interview with Rossiya 24 TV channel.

“According to current estimates, the number of citizens with incomes below the minimum cost of living is still around 20 million people, which is 13–13.5% of the country’s total population,” Topilin said.

He noted this is “at least an unpleasant indicator.” The minister attributed this figure to price increases in the last two years and, as a result, the growth of the subsistence minimum.

Topilin stressed the government has already taken the first steps to reducing the number of people with incomes below the subsistence minimum. He recalled that under a law that was adopted recently and would come into effect on January 1, 2018, the minimum wage would rise to 85% of the minimum subsistence level, and to 100% on January 2019.

“For the first time in the history of the Russian Federation, we have managed to bring the minimum monthly wage to the minimum subsistence level,” Topilin said.

NB. This article was lightly edited to make it more readable—TRR.

Cotton in Volgograd: An Immigrant’s Story

The White Gold Immigrant
Alexandra Dontsova
Takie Dela
December 5, 2017

Oybek Kimsanbayev’s life is like a Hollywood film: a brilliant scientific career, crushing failure, departure from his native country, work on a construction site, and his first experiments with cotton in Russia.

A heated discussion was underway at Volgograd State Agricultural University. Local and university officials were telling a visiting deputy agriculture minister about the local curiosity: cotton. Imagine, they told the deputy minister, it grows here, and the quality is even excellent. They dreamed aloud how it would be grown on an industrial scale. All that was needed was state support and processing complexes.

While the officials were singing cotton’s praises to the deputy minister from Moscow, a man with a haggard face stood in the doorway of the conference hall. He nervously bit his lips, alternating his gaze between the floor and the audience. Oybek Kimsanbayev heads a group of scientists who have developed varieties of cotton capable of growing in the Volgograd Region’s climate. The region is recognized as the northernmost point in the world where it is possible to grow cotton. Although he was the most important person in the room, Kimsanbayev was not on the list of speakers.

Oybek Kimsanbayev waiting to be interviewed. Photo by Alina Desyatnichenko for Takie Dela

Everyone except the man who had made the conversation possible talked about cotton and the prospects of its cultivation in Russia. (Given a skillful approach, Russian cotton might challenge the US and China’s hold on the market.) However, at some point, the university’s rector realized the discussion lacked something and gestured for Kimsanbayev to come and sit down at the round table at a place that had happily been  vacated.

Construction and Cotton

Kimsanbayev tells journalists nearly the same story when asked why he started researching cotton in Russia, adding that he is very grateful. Were it not for reporters, few people would know of his work, and he scarcely would have been able to get the ear of the authorities.

“In 2006, a cooperation agreement was concluded between Taskhent State Agricultural University and Volgograd State Agricultural University. Researchers launched projects on alternative crop production, meaning cultivatings crops that have not usually been grown in a particular area. One lab worked on reviving cotton growing in Russia. The outcome was a project for generating ultra-early ripening, high-quality varieties with a high fiber yield,” Kimsanbayev says at one go.

“And the non-official story? Why did you start researching cotton in Volgograd?”

We are sitting in small cafe in the Hotel Volgograd. It is pouring rain outside. Opposite our table is a group of foreigners. Judging the by patches on their blazers, they are FIFA officials, who have arrived in the city to monitor construction of the city’sstadium for the 2018 World Cup.

Kimsanbayev is forty-three years old. Aside from Tashkent Agricultural University, he has a degree from the University of Seoul, taught at Columbia University, ran a lab, worked for the president of Uzbekistan in the early noughties, and at the age of thirty-five became the youngest doctor of agricultural sciences in his country. He has published hundreds of scientific papers, and he has developed and co-developed some two dozen varieties of cotton. Until 2012, he led an international project for creating ultra-early ripening cotton varieties.

Kimsanbayev shows the work his lab does. Photo by Alina Desyatnichenko for Takie Dela

It was at this high point that Kimsanbayev’s life, chockablock with prospects and ambitious plans, fell apart overnight. Due to a mistake he discusses reluctantly, he was forced to leave Uzbekistan.

“Yeah, I have a big mouth. I was working with a Russian university. We had established a distance-learning platform for Uzbek children. But not everyone liked what we were doing. So it happened I lost my job and could not find another one.”

Professor Kimsanbayev was forced to go to Russia to work as an ordinary migrant worker. An acquaintance in Volgograd hired him to work for his company, to “make some moves,” as Kimsanbayev puts it.

“The helter-skelter was not my thing, and I went and got a job at a construction site. I was an ordinary unskilled laborer, along with other men from my country. I don’t see anything shameful about working with my hands. If I have to, I’ll wash floors. Or work on building the stadium.”

Chance brought Kimsanbayev together with good people who took him to Volgograd State Agricultural University. After a long interview with the rector and after he supplied the university with his academic credentials, Kimsanbayev was appointed a lecturer in the agricultural technology department. Realizing the worth of their new faculty member, the university rented a flat for him. He was given the chance to do what he does best: experiment with cotton.

Not Just Cotton Wool

The first year, Kimsanbayev planted only 25 acres. The professor did everything himself in a field the size of four typical dacha plots. He sowed it, plowed it, watered it, and did battle with weeds and pests. Many people doubted the seeds would sprout.

“I brought an international collection of cotton seeds to Volgograd: 97 varieties from all the cotton-producing countries, from Latin America, the US, China, India, and so on. I selected 25 varieties, which sprouted in the local climate. I narrowed these down to three varieties. That is how we arrived at an ultra-early ripening cotton in Volgograd, a variety that matures between April and September.”

The following year, the experimental cotton field had grown to eight hectares. To help him with the work, Kimsanbayev hired Uzbek agronomists and encouraged the university’s students to join them. The outcome: not only did the cotton seeds sprout, but the field turned into a white carpet in due time.

“As they say, I woke up famous one day. Reporters and local officials came to see me in the field. Now everyone believed Volgograd cotton was a reality. However, we are faced with other problems. We have to convince farmers it is worth growing cotton, that the crop is economically profitable: the price of one kilo of raw cotton is equal to the price of thirty kilos of wheat. In addition, we need specialist agronomists. So, basically, I promote cotton and, of course, train students. I don’t work alone. Several scientists, including Igor Podkovyrov and Taisiya Konotopskaya, have been working on cultivating new varieties with me and training specialists.”

Kimsanbayev now heads the university’s Center for Applied Genetics, Selective Breeding, and Cotton Seed Production. In total, 109 hectares were planted with cotton this year.

Oybek Kimsanbayev in the lab. Photo by Alina Desyatnichenko for Takie Dela

Kimsanbayev says that Allah loves him. Otherwise, he would not have sent him so many trials and so many people, willing to help him just like that, without asking anything in return.

“There have been deplorable circumstances when my life was not worth a penny. Yet people helped him. But there are things I really regret. I once behaved disgracefully and therefore moved away from my family. So the burden of guilt would not drag me down, I simply shoved off to Russia, frankly. That is why I have worked so hard, so that, down the line, my family—my dad, my brother, my wife and our three children—would be proud of me. That is my own real goal in the work I do.”

“What did you do that was disgraceful?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“When was the last time you were in Tashkent?”

“I constantly have meetings and business trips. My schedule is crazy. I just got back from Astrakhan, where the region’s governor and I discussed a plan for sowing 200 hectares of cotton in the spring. I haven’t been home for four months.”

Kimsanbayev suddenly falls silent. The expression on his face changes noticeably when the conversation turns to family and children. His eldest daughter and son are seventeen and sixteen, respectively, while his youngest son is five.

“I miss them, of course. I’m really afraid of losing my family due to my work.”

“Why don’t you move them to Volgograd?”

“Where would I put them? In a rented flat on a monthly salary of 27,000 rubles [approx. 390 euros]? Listen, your questions are making me depressed, and it’s raining outside as it  is.”

Later, Kimsanbayev confesses he bought tickets for home right after our interview.

Potatoes on Mars

The cotton harvest is nearing completion in the university’s experimental field. The agronomist Bahadir or, as he introduces himself, Boris, specially recruited from Tashkent for the experiment outside Volgograd, shows me how to pick cotton. It is fairly straightforward. You pull the fiber from the boll. If it gives, you keep pulling until you have all the white cotton in your hand.

University students help pick the cotton. The white caps from the cotton plants are quickly deposited into sacks. Soft as a cat’s paw, the fiber is pleasant to the touch. The softness is a small reward for one’s efforts. Pulling the cotton from the boll without being pricked is nearly impossible.

A student from Volgograd State Agricultural University picks cotton. Photo by Alina Desyatnichenko for Takie Dela

There are several unusual rows on the edge of the large field. The cotton there is not white, but dirty yellow and brownish green. It transpires that this year the Volgograd researchers bred a special variety of colored cotton. Someone joked the military ordered green cotton for sewing its uniforms.

Since Oybek Kimsanbayev joined its faculty, Volgograd State Agricultural University became the only university in Russia where cotton scientists are trained.

“Do you know how I enticed students into studying cotton? I said they would be rare specialists, and they would especially in demand abroad. But I hope, nonetheless, that Russian farmers realize the crop is quite profitable economically. This year, for example, there was overproduction of wheat in southern Russia. Farmers cannot sell the grain at a good price, while there is simply nowhere to store such yields. Consequently, they are making a loss. And this isn’t the first year we’ve seen this scenario. So, farmers need to switch to other crops, including non-traditional crops. Cotton could be one of those crops.”

“Where else in Russia could cotton be grown?”

“Currently, Volgograd Region is the northernmost area in the world where cotton is planted. The crop could be planted farther south, in Astrakhan, Kalmykia, Stavropol, and Krasnodar. Just imagine, in Volgograd Region, in one of the districts along the Volga River there are one and a half million hectares of cropland lying fallow. If you sow all that land with cotton, and the yield from one hectare is around one ton, Russia could reshape the world cotton market. It would simply crash it. Russia would not be dependent on imported cotton, which is especially vital given ongoing western sanctions and Uzbekistan’s refusal to export raw cotton to Russia. The really funny thing is that cotton was once grown in these parts. However, the technology was lost over the last decades. So now we folks at the university are once again developing techniques for cultivating cotton and breeding new varieties.”

The harvested cotton is loaded into a trailer for the journey to the warehouse. Photo by Alina Desyatnichenko for Takie Dela

The cotton from the experimental field is of very high quality. Its quality has impressed the local textile mill and a Moldovan company, almost the only full-cycle plant in the CIS where raw cotton is processed and fabric produced. It is they who are hurrying the researchers in Volgograd to breed varieties that would yield 3,000 kilos a hectare.

“Next year, six times more cropland will be sown with cotton seed in Volgograd Region alone: 630 hectares. Plus there will be 200 hectares in Astrakhan Region. We are negotiating with Kalmykia. We provide scientific support to all the farmers. Recently, at an ag expo in Moscow, I spoked with your agriculture minister, Alexander Tkachov. He told me a program for supporting cotton growing in Russia was in the works. I think the availability of state support would ultimately convince farmers to take up cotton.”

“Do industrialists try and recruit you? The salaries are definitely higher in industry than at a regional university.”

“I’ve had offers. But I turned them down. I would have to work as an agronomist or seed cultivator whose job would be to increase gross crop yields. I don’t find that interesting. I’m a scientist. I’ve created a variety, I’ve let it go to work, and I’ve set myself a new goal.”

“Do you have a new goal?”

“I do. Roughly speaking, our project aims to study alternative crop production. Meaning that we cultivate crops in places where they usually don’t grow. Have you seen the movie The Martian, in which an astronaut grows potatoes? They took the idea from reality. Thirty years ago, the Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov was the first person to grow cotton in outer space. My objective is to cultivate varieties of different crops that would adapt to all natural conditions, so that no amount of frost could damage them. I have proven this is possible. However grandiloquent it might sound, the job of farmers is to feed the world. If plants can yield crops under any conditions, imagine how that would change a country’s economy.”

The agronomist Bahadir shows off Volgograd’s know-how: colored cotton. Photo by Alina Desyatnichenko for Takie Dela

Cotton is the only crop that has several sets of genetic chromosomes. That is why it is perfect for different experiments.

“How do they relate to your work and success in Uzbekistan? Are they kicking themselves for letting such a valuable employee go?”

“I don’t know whether they’re kicking themselves. But I have been offered a prestigious job and a high post. I’m not ready to go back yet.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

There Are No Condoms in Russia

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Developing a Moral Immunity to HIV
The Education and Science Ministry doesn’t want young people to talk about condoms
Anna Makeyeva and Valeriya Mishina
Kommersant
November 3, 2017

As Kommersant has learned, a scandal has erupted in the Education and Science Ministry over an online HIV prevention lesson for high school and university students. The people responsible for the internet project have refused to fulfill demands by officials to vet answers to users’ questions in advance, as well as their recommendations to “talk about morality in order to get away from slippery topics” and avoid such words as “condom.” It is still unclear how the lesson, scheduled for December 1, will be taught.

The Nationwide Internet HIV Prevention Lesson, timed to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1, has been held by order of the Education and Science Ministry since 2015. On the eve of the lesson in 2016, Education and Science Minister Olga Vasilyeva noted that the issue of countering the spread of the HIV infection among children and adolescents, given the complicated epidemiological circumstances, had long been a focus of the Education and Science Ministry, and occupied a vital place in a set of measures for preserving and strengthening the health of children and young people.

“The use of such innovative methods as open internet lessons at preventive events in educational institutions will help us cope more effectively with the existing problem,” Izvestia quoted the ministry’s stated position in 2015.

On November 2, a working meeting in preparation for the upcoming internet lesson was chaired by Larisa Falkovskaya, deputy director of the department for state policy on children’s rights at the Education and Science Ministry.

“For the first time in my life, a meeting at the Education and Science Ministry ended in scandal because of my fault. I refused to write the answers for those taking part in the online HIV prevention lesson,” said Sergei Bulanov, who is in charge of organizing the online lesson and heads the Center for Modern Education Technologies, a group of non-profit organizations engaged in educational and related projects.

According to Bulanov, the officials at the meeting deemed use of the word “condom” “unacceptable,” and consequently the meeting was adjourned.

Project organizers suggested to officials they give up the practice of using prepared answers in the video lesson and discuss issues of prevention in a playful way, for example, by arranging a rap battle between student teams from two regions.

“But we were told to talk about morality in order to get away from slippery topics,” complained Bulanov, adding, “The topic is ratherly widely represented in the school curriculum, but currently the Education Ministry has adopted a surprising stance, based on substituting HIV prevention, which is mostly a matter of personal hygiene, with lessons in moral values.”

Besides, Bulanov argues it is incorrect to equate the risk of infection only with antisocial behavior.

“Thirty percent of HIV-infected women were infected by the only sexual partner they ever had. Can we reproach them for antisocial behavior? HIV-positive teenagers who have been infected from birth did not lead an antisocial lifestyle.”

Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, argues the view it is better not talk to children about sex currently prevails in Russia.

“It is one of the reasons HIV has spread so widely in Russia,” he said.

According to Pokrovsky, twenty percent of young women are already having sex by the age of fifteen. He added that in Germany, for example, sex education is an obligatory subject in schools. Last year, only 3,500 cases of infection were registered there, while over 100,000 cases of infection were registered in the Russian Federation.

“We see two fundamentally [different] approaches and two different outcomes,” Pokrovsky concluded.

The Education and Science Ministry declined to comment on the situation when approached by Kommersant. The Russian Federal Health Ministry learned about the conflict from Kommersant. The ministry said the online HIV prevention lesson was an undertaking of the Education and Science Ministry.

“They did not come to us with this or consult with us,” our sources at the Health Ministry said.

Sergei Bulanov assured Kommersant preparations for the open HIV prevention lesson for young people would be continued.

“We will keep on working, focusing more on recommendations from specialists at the Health Ministry and Rospotrebnadzor [the Russian federal consumer watchdog] than on the client [i.e., the Education and Science Ministry].

The internet lesson will take place on December 1, 2017.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Pravda.ru

“A Great City Deserves a Great Library”: Petersburg Professors Defend the Publichka

Literary scholar Dmitry Kalugin picketing the entrance to the Russian National Library (“Publichka”), February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanova/Novaya Gazeta

Professors Stand Up for Librarians
Serafim Romanov
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Peterburg
February 9, 2017

“Have you heard they want to merge the Russian National Library with the Lenin Library in Moscow?” Boris Kolonitsky, a senior researcher at the St. Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences) asked passerby.

On February 9, a “professors’ picket” took place outside the Russian National Library’s main building on Ostrovsky Square. Lecturers from the European University, the Higher School of Economics, and other institutions rallied to preserve the so-called Publichka and defend its former head bibliographer Tatyana Shumilova [who was summarily dismissed from her post last week for speaking publicly about the negative consequences of the merger.]

Most bystanders heard about these developments for the first time. But after a short briefing, passersby agreed it would be wrong to merge one of the country’s most important academic and cultural institutions.

“It is not so much the library, St. Isaac’s or anything else that causes people to protest, as it is the fact that no one reckons with them,” Viktor Voronkov, director of the Centre for Independent Social Reseach, explained to Novaya Gazeta. “Why is everything being centralized? To make it was easier to control. The entire country is being formed up into a [power] vertical, and it is the same way in every field.”

“It matters that people from the outside, people who don’t work at the library but understand its value, speak out,” said journalist Daniil Kotsiubinsky, who organized the rally.

“The people who came here today are not random, but one of a kind. Petersburgers should listen to them.”

As the rally was drawing to a close, the overall enthusiasm was disturbed by a police officer.

“We’ve got a solo picket here,” the guardian of order reported on his cell phone, asking the picketers to show him their papers.

“It’s an A4-sized placard,” the policeman reported. “What does it say? ‘A great city deserves a great library.'”

Historian Boris Kolonitsky shows the group’s placard to a policeman. February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanov/Novaya Gazeta

Translated by the Russian Reader

Civilization Won’t Be Destroyed by Extraterrestrials: On the Possible Merger of Russia’s Two Largest Libraries

Tatyana Shumilova. Photo courtesy of Rosbalt

Civilization Won’t Be Destroyed by Extraterrestrials
The consequences of merging Russia’s two largest libraries would be disastrous, argues the Russian National Library’s Tatyana Shumilova
Alexander Kalinin
Rosbalt
February 1, 2017

The idea of merging Russia’s two biggest libraries was proposed to culture minister Vladimir Medinsky by their directors, Vladimir Gnezdilov (the Russian State Library in Moscow, aka the Leninka) and Alexander Visly (the Russian National Library in Petersburg, aka the Publichka). The proposal has hardly garnered universal approval. The country’s leading authorities on librarianship have sent a letter to President Putin asking him to stop the merger from going ahead. They have been supported by Russian philologists and historians.

Tatyana Shumilova, chief bibliographer in the Russian National Library’s information and bibliography department, spoke to Rosbalt about how staff there have related to the possible merger with the Russian State Library, and whether the issue has been broached with them.

What are the possible consequences of merging the country’s two biggest libraries?

Our library would simply cease to exist in its current shape. Many people have made much of the fact that the RNL’s executive director Alexander Visly has said the changes would not give rise to a new legal entity. Of course, they wouldn’t. One legal entity would remain: the RSL. So everyone realizes it’s not a merger that is at issue, but a takeover.

So we could equate the words “merger” and “destruction” in this case?

Yes, definitely. A merger would be tantamount to the death of our library here in Petersburg. After the RNL became a branch or appendage of the RSL, our work with readers would cease to be funded. We would not be able to provide them with the full scope of services. Plus, we would have to switch to the RSL’s system, and that would be undesirable. We are told the catalogues in both libraries are structured on the same principle. That is not true. There is a big difference between them. It would be quite complicated to restructure the system. The different approaches to librarianship should be preserved.

Moscow has the administrative resources. The government is located in the capital, as is the Culture Ministry. Moscow and Moscow Region are the home of the RSL, the Russian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI), the Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology, the State Historic Public Library of Russia, and the Russian State Library for Foreign Literature (aka the Inostranka). And, until recently, the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (INION RAN) was running at full steam. But the Northwest Federal Region has only two major libraries, the RNL and the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences (aka the BAN). After a merger, there would be one.

I understand that, after the merger, publishers would not have to send an obligatory copy of their books to the RNL. Only Moscow would get new books?

That is one of the cost-saving measures. Allegedly, money would not have to be spent on two sets of obligatory copies. It would be enough to have one hard copy and a digital copy. But the outcome would be that Petersburg would simply stop receiving most new books. It’s a rather cynical cost-cutting measure that would affect only our library, not the RSL, which was founded much later than the RNL. And all because it’s located in Moscow. No one says it outright, but it’s clear anyway.

But the RNL would still get a digital copy.

I really don’t understand the idea of sending a digital copy instead of a hard copy. We have a huge number of readers who for medical reasons cannot and should not use a computer. Why should we deprive them of hard copies? It’s simply indecent. Besides, we know what natural disasters electronic resources are prone to. A blackout, a power surge in the network, a server failure, and everything is lost. A library should not be dependent only on one type of resource.

People who take far-reaching, momentous decisions like to base them by alluding to the know-how of other libraries and even other countries. But nowhere do national libraries receive only digital copies of printed matter. You can probably merge libraries in Denmark, but the Russian Federation is a different country, a much larger country with a much larger population. Although the name would stay the same, the RNL would in fact cease being a national library. We already have municipal and neighborhood libraries in Petersburg. People come to us as a last resort, when there is nowhere else to go.

Nor is anyone probably really aware that digital copies relate not only to books but to magazines and newspapers as well.

Apparently, the shots are being called by people who don’t read and don’t go to libraries. Just how did the culture minister write his dissertations and books? By using the Internet? Or did someone else do it for him?

Where did the idea to merge the libraries come from?

Rumors about the merger have been circulating for a long time. They are all we have to go on, for no one has said anything officially. It’s still too early to draw any conclusions from the available facts. Now no one denies that merger talks are underway. Earlier, apparently, they were too busy to reveal this, or maybe they were ashamed or embarrassed. But now they’re not ashamed anymore.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Vladimir Zaitsev, the then-director of the Publichka, was worried about the library’s potential plight. That was when the name Russian National Library was coined. Lots of people didn’t like it, but Zaitsev thought it would give us stability and protect us from attacks. As we see now, it didn’t work for long. The opportunity to save millions of rubles has now been identified as grounds for merging the libraries. Indeed, you could probably calculate the worth of the books and the real estate by eye. But how do you evaluate the intangible assets? How many people have been educated here? How many people, from university students to scholars, have grown up here? They wrote their dissertations and books here. If you write a research paper based on more than two sources, you are going to need a library. This is serious work.

It is believed the RNL’s current director Alexander Visly was sent to Petersburg on a “temporary assignment” in order to merge the two libraries. Do you agree?

Officials rarely condescend to explaining the reasons for their actions directly. They believe they should not be accountable to the taxpaypers. No one has announced anything to us officially. But talk of a possible merger started after Anton Likhomanov left the director’s post at the RNL in early 2016. Visly wasn’t the only person tipped for the vacancy, after all. The director of the Lermontov Interdistrict Centralized Library System, in Petersburg, and the director of the National Library of the Republic of Karelia were identified as possible candidates.

Several months passed between Likhomanov’s departure and Visly’s arrival. We don’t know what was discussed during that time. Apparently, there was some kind of horse trading underway. According to the rumors in Moscow, Visly really didn’t want to move to Petersburg, but he was nevertheless talked into going in order to perform certain functions. The fact that an executive director has not yet been appointed at the RSL, and they only have an acting director, causes one to reflect grimly on the subject.

Indeed, Visly has not taken an interest in day-to-day affairs in Petersburg. He is busy with construction, renovating the Lenin Reading Room, and he has visited the cataloguing and acquisition departments. By the way, officials have been saying the functions of these departments overlap at the RNL and RSL. So he hasn’t been dealing with the library as a whole, although he is the executive director and should be responsible for everything that happens in the RNL. Apparently, this circumstance has been agreed upon with someone. No one would reproach him for it.

Has the issue of the possible merger been discussed with RNL staff?

There have been no meetings on the topic with the workforce, and none are planned. No one keeps us in the loop. There are no general staff meetings.  There is the practice of informational meetings, to which the heads of the departments and units are invited. My comrades once expressed a desire to take part in one such meeting, but they were simply booted out. Staff members only talk about the merger amongst themselves.

What do they say?

Very little that is positive. Everyone fears for his or her future. But what can rank-and-file library staffers do? Some signed the letter supporting the library, while others didn’t. Some have signed a petition. What else can we do?  We need large-scale outside support, but how do we get it? People know very little about the merger of the libraries, after all. Even if they wanted  to  find out about the consequences of the mergers, where would they look? Yandex News. And what would they find there? News about fires, missing schoolchildren, pedestrians run over by cars, and people falling from tall buildings. There is almost no news about culture.

And how do we explain to university lecturers, university students, and schoolchildren what could happen to the library? How do we convince them that the problem concerns them, too? Even university students come to us for textbooks, because the university libraries are shortchanged when it comes to new acquisitions of books. But our customers, people to whom provide information, include the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, the Investigative Committee, the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and other organizations. So it turns out they could not care less, either. Or they naively believe nothing will change. Maybe they don’t understand the consequences?

Have you thought about organizing a protest rally?

Few library staffers would attend such a rally. Everyone is scared redundancies will kick off, and his or her department will be eliminated. There is the chance of winding up on the streets. There are people working here who went through the hungry 1990s on miserly wages. At least they were paid regularly. Director Vladimir Zaitsev, who constantly traveled to Moscow and literally sat in the minister’s waiting room, deserves the credit for that.

So a lot of people would not attend a rally. No one wants to lose their job. Take a look, for example, at how many people came out to defend St. Isaac’s Cathedral. A lot fewer than could have come out.

People today are surrounded by informational noise. They hear about Crimea, Ukraine, and America. Old ladies at bus stops don’t discuss cultural issues, but US Presidents Obama and Trump. Everyone in Russia is totally confused.

What consequences would the merger have for readers? For example, one of the plusses that has been mentioned is that people with RNL cards would be able to use the RSL in Moscow.

Initially, readers would have no sense of any change. They just wouldn’t understand anything. After all, we would continue to acquire some new books. Qualitative negative changes build up unnoticed. They’re not visible immediately. In Germany in 1933, not everyone realized immediately what exactly was happening, either.

Aside from the issue of conservation and security, replacing hard copies with digital copies would cause yet another exodus of readers, especially elderly people, who often don’t like or cannot read e-books. Indeed, many young readers, when you suggest they use a digital source, reply, “I don’t need your Internet. I came here to read books.” Reducing the numbers of live readers to a minimum would probably lead to the next step: closing the library altogether. “Why keep you open?” officials would say, “Nobody visits your library.”

As for a single library card for the two libraries, there wouldn’t be much advantage to it. RNL readers can easily get a card for the Leninka, and Leninka readers can easily get a card for the RNL. It’s a snap: you just need your internal passport. You don’t even have to bring a photograph to the registration desk anymore.

So is there any way out of the situation, or is the RNL’s takoever inevitable?

I don’t want to accept the fact it could happen. But RNL staff are hardly in a position to do anything. They have almost no influence on the situation. Respected people, prominent scholars and cultural figures, have to speak out, people with whom the authorities have to reckon. As it is, only Arkady Sokolov and Valery Leonov, out of the entire Petersburg library community, have spoken out on the topic. None of the museums or universities have openly supported us. It is sad.

I don’t think the city could solve the problem by talking the library under its wing. That would only delay its death. The city could not fund the RNL properly. I don’t know what other options we have for saving the library. We have let the moment passs when we could have looked for sponsors to support us financially.

What do RSL employees think of the merger?

They are silent because the merger wouldn’t affect them. They would continue to function as before and do the same things they did earlier, such as acquiring the obligatory copies, hard copies and digital copies, of everything published in Russia. The negative consequences would only affect us, meaning the Russian National Library.

The most concise definition of culture is this: culture is the transmission of tradition. Breakdowns in the production, concentration, and reclamation of the national heritage (a process in which libraries are an inalienable and quite important component) have led to the collapse of civilizations throughout history. Then people go looking for the extraterrestrials who flew in and destroyed everything. The perpetrators are actually much closer.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

UPDATE. Sadly but predictably, the Russian National Library has now decided to dismiss Tatyana Shumilova from her job there for granting this frank interview to Rosbalt, although ostensibly, as follows from the letter below, dated 3 February 2017 and signed by E.V. Tikhonova, acting director of the RNL, she is threatened with dismissal for, allegedly, being absent from work for four hours and thirteen minutes on 30 January 2017. Thanks to Comrade VA for this information and the scan of the letter. TRR

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UPDATE 2. Today, February 7, there have been corroborated reports that Tatyana Shumilova has been summarily dismissed from her job at the Russian National Library in Petersburg. TRR