A decision by the authorities in a northwestern Russian republic to burn more than 50 books on the grounds they contained ideas "alien to Russian ideology" has sparked dismay in Russia, prompting the Culture Ministry to distance itself from the controversial move.
The books were reportedly published with the support of the Soros Foundation, a nongovernmental organization founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
In November 2015, Russian prosecutors placed two branches of Soros' charity network, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Open Society Institute (OSI), on a list of "undesirable" organizations and banned them from handing out grants.
The local news website 7x7 said 53 books were torched in the yard of a local college.
Citing an official letter (left, click to enlarge) from the regional Education Ministry, the website reported on January 13 that college libraries in the republic of Komi were searched last month for books published with funds from the Soros Foundation.
The letter said the books were destroyed at the request of a presidential envoy.
Russia's combative culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, was quick to deny his ministry was behind the initiative, which he denounced as "totally unacceptable."
Burning books, he said, "looks so bad" and evokes what he called "strange historical associations" -- an apparent reference to the campaign by 1930s Nazi Germany and Austria to publicly burn books they deemed subversive.
News of the books' destruction in Komi has been met with outrage and ridicule on Russian social networks, with a number of commentators drawing parallels with the Nazi era:
Others have quoted 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine's famous axiom that "Those who burn books will in the end burn people, too":
According to the director of the Komi college library, Yelena Vasilyeva, torching these books makes no sense since they weren't exactly popular in the first place.
"These books were brought here a very long time ago," she was quoted as saying by 7x7. "I've been working here 11 years and the books were brought before I arrived. Nobody ever borrowed them, they were actually kept in a storeroom."
A 7x7 correspondent who visited Komi's national library in December said it had been asked to prepare a list of books published by the Soros Foundation.
According to the news website, the books included a forensics manual and works on logic, 20th-century Western philosophy, and French surrealism.