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Russia: Soros Boosts Libraries And Publishing

  • John Varoli

St Petersburg, 8 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian branch of the Soros' Open Society foundation recently announced a $100 million program to lift Russia's libraries and book publishing industry out of their doldrums. The ambitious, three-year project will, first and foremost, disperse this money among 3,500 Russian libraries.

Any Russian library - from a major regional one to a prison library - can apply to participate in the program, said Yekaterina Geniyeva, the president of Open Society-Russia.

The lucky 3,500 libraries - there are a total of 150,000 libraries in Russia, according to Geniyeva - will be given a list of 2,000 books from which to choose. Central regional libraries will be given $10,000 to spend on the acquisition of new Russian books, as well as Russian translations of foreign-language books. All other libraries will be given $3,500 to spend.

Daniil Granin, a leading Russian author, told RFE/RL, as the latest Soros initiative was announced, that "libraries have been abandoned by our government," adding that many have not purchased books for the past seven years, and that many libraries are located in dilapidated structures.

As far as which books will be made available, Frances Pinter, head of Open Society's international publishing program, said, they are careful to take Russian national sensitivities into consideration.

The list of books from which to choose will be put together by the Open Society, with the help of input by a broad spectrum of leading figures from among the Russian intelligentsia and library sector.

As with most other Soros projects, Open Society plans to share the costs 50-50 with the government. And though many regional governments claim to be strapped for cash, the Open Society said that 81 of Russia's 89 political subdivisions ('subject' of the Federation) have already expressed willingness to participate in the project.

By increasing Russian library book purchases, the Open Society also hopes to give a boost to Russia's struggling publishing industry and book distributors.

"We're trying to kill many birds with one stone," said Open Society-Russia president Geniyeva. "We're trying to improve education and enlightenment in the country by helping the libraries, which in turn will help the publishing industry."

The project also plans to connect the chosen libraries to the Internet, and fully computerizing up to 100 regional and city libraries. "Another aspect of the program is to revitalize the role of libraries as community centers," said Open Society international publishing program head, Pinter.

On the overall influence of the Soros organization in Russia, Granin says, "judging its results, Soros' Open Society has probably done more than some government ministries, and it spends its money more effectively and wiser."

George Soros, a Hungarian-born, American billionaire has donated millions of dollars to programs to promote democracy, a free-and-open media and market reforms in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. He is also reported to have made a great deal more money in currency-speculation trading, And, last Summer, Soros extended a short-term, emergency loan - at what he says was a very profitable interest rate - to Russia to help Moscow through a recurring wage-payment crisis.