Libraries in northern Russia have been told to remove books by Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and others from their shelves because they were donated by George Soros’ foundation, according to Russian media reports.
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Russian officials denied such an order had been issued, but local librarians in the Arkhangelsk region complained they were told not to speak about the decision for fear of losing their jobs.
Other books published by Soros’ foundation were reportedly burned in another part of northern Russia last year.
Russia banned Soros’ foundation in 2015, saying it posed a threat to both state security and the Russian constitution. Both branches of the nongovernmental organization – the Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation – were placed on a list of foreign NGOs whose activities have been deemed “undesirable” by the Russian state.
News of the books' removal was first reported by Alexander Balakin, a senior member of the Institute of Russian Literature. Balakin posted pictures of the banned books in a Facebook post on July 6.
“Last month, all the rural libraries in the Arkhangelsk region received an unofficial order to remove books by Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn from the shelves and [place them] in the basement until further notice,” he wrote. Balakin also listed schoolbooks, poetry collections and works of philosophy that were allegedly ordered removed.
“These books were a source of pride in the underprivileged village libraries; fairy tales that have been read over and over, fancy art albums. What do all these various books have in common? As was explained to the librarians, they were all published by the Soros foundation – the banned foreign agent. Of course Soros never published these books. It’s just that, at the turn of the century, the Open Society Foundation was buying the best books, the best editions, and sending them to libraries, marked with the foundation’s stamp.”
He added that librarians have been warned they will lose their jobs if they speak out about the order.
The local education ministry in Arkhangelsk has denied issuing any such instructions. But librarians interviewed by Russian media outlets confirmed they were following unofficial instructions to remove the books.
“A colleague called me to say I should remove the books that were received years ago from the Open Foundation from the shelves – better yet, also not to lend them,” one librarian told prominent Russian publication Kommersant this week. “The prosecutor’s office will supposedly be checking up on that. I do not know if it is true, but I hid the books we have.”
“It makes my heart ache,” another librarian told Radio Europe, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job. “These are Russian and Western classics – all these books are in high demand.
“This is absurd,” she continued. “The Soros foundation was declared undesirable in Russia, fine. But what do the books have to do with it? We were told the decision was from the higher authorities, and to hide the books out of sight,” she added.
This is not the first incident in which the Soros name has seemingly proved fatal for books in Russia. In January 2016, the education ministry in the Komi region in northern Russia issued an instruction that books published by the Soros foundation be removed from all local schools and universities. One of the local colleges later burned dozens of books, leading to an uproar in the Russian media.