Staunton, January 22 – Russia’s “thick” journals, the pride of its intellectual life for more than a century are dying, the result of changes in the media marketplace. But despite 2015 having been declared “The Year of Literature” in Russia, the Russian government is unwilling to do anything to save them. Indeed, it says, it has no authority to do so.
Vladislav Artyomov, the editor of Moskva, recently wrote a letter to Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky. He has now received a response from one of the latter’s subordinates and has decided to go public with an open letter to the minister about what he describes as a threat to Russian culture.
Medinsky’s decision to hand off his letter to a subordinate speaks volumes, Artyomov says, and that official’s words “the Ministry of Culture of Russia does not have the authority to support publications” says even more at a time when “not only Moskva, but also Novy Mir, Znamya, Oktyabr, Druzhba Narodov, and others are dying before our eyes.”
The notion that the culture ministry doesn’t have any responsibility to save them and that they are merely “means of mass information,” as the ministry’s response suggests, is absurd. “’Moskva’ is not a means of mass information. Even on its cover we have printed ‘a journal of Russian culture,’ lest anyone have any doubts.”
For more than a century, Russia’s “thick” journals have been publishing the very best in Russian literature and thus helped to define Russian culture. Now, they are dying, and that is “the immediate and first order task” of the Ministry of Culture – or at least it should be, Artyomov argues.
Given the nature of the threat, the editor continues, “You should not sleep at night, you must think and look for ways of saving what is recognized in the entire world as ‘a unique phenomenon of Russian culture.’ This is your work,” he reminds Medinsky. “More than that, it is your moral duty.”
Artyomov says that in the response he received, the ministry believes that its assistance to public libraries will save the “thick” journals. But that is nonsense too. These libraries buy what their readers most immediately want, publications like [the detective magazine] Vor v zakone, rather than the best Russian literary journals.
If the ministry wanted to save the “thick” journals and that should be its desire, it could easily do so simply by requiring all of the 40,000 public libraries in Russia to subscribe to a dozen or so of the best of them, Artyomov continues. That would save them and it would do so without any additional cost to the government.
Russian governments have reached out to save cultural institutions in far more difficult times than these, the Moskva editor says,” and now the culture ministry “must show initiative, take up our proposals, put them in the form of legal acts, and carry them to the government. When would be a better time to save the literary journals if not in the Year of Literature?”
“If we lose [these] journals now, we will be losing them forever,” and the culture ministry will have committed an “unforgiveable” crime because “a priceless ‘brand’ of Russian life will die and recede into the past.” Such a break is “always a catastrophe and death, and it is saddest of all if it happens from our indifference, if we make it happen with our own hands.”
Artyomov says that he and his colleagues at Moskva have a clear conscience as far as that is concerned. Since November, “the entire editorial staff has gone unpaid and will continue to do so through February” in the hopes of entering the year in the black and thus saving the journal.