By JOHN Y. COLE and BARBARA BRYANT
"We are witnessing a region of vibrant cultures that are struggling to redefine themselves. The written word has always been vital to the culture. Economic and political conserns dominate the discussions right now and that's understandable, but there will be no happy ending without a cultural and spiritual rebirth. This will only happen through the written word -- which has always been vital to Russian culture."
So said Blair Ruble of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the start of an international conference, "Publishing and Book Culture in Russia and the New States: Challenges for the West," held at the Library of Congress on March 9-10.
Problems afflicting Russian publishing and book culture were highlighted at the conference, which drew 70 participants, including four Russian publishers; copyright experts; a scholar from Ukraine; Charles Ellis of John Wiley & Sons and the chairman of the Association of American Publishers; officials from the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA); Librarian of Congress James H. Billington; eight American publishers; Library of Congress specialists; librarians from several research institutions; literary agents; educators; Mikhail Levner, director of the Library of Congress's Moscow office; and Russian author Vassily Aksyonov, who spoke at the dinner on March 9.
The conference was sponsored by PUBWATCH, a nonprofit organization that promotes Western assistance to the book sector in Eastern Europe and the nationas of the former Soviet Union; the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress; and the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Support for the meeting came from the Soros Foundation, the Wallach Foundation and other private contributors to PUBWATCH, the Center for the Book and the Kennan Institute.
The purpose of the meeting, which was described in a detailed report ("Russian Publishing's Tough Transition") in the March 22 issue of Publishers Weekly, was to:
- Review the current state of book publishing in Russia and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union;
- Exchange information about Western programs of assistance to the former Soviet book sector; and
- Review how East-West commercial links can help build a free and independent book trade.
The struggle for democratic reform and the movement toward a market economy have, as one conference speaker phrased it, "turned publishing on its head" in the former Soviet Union. Government support and subsidies have been withdrawn in a society where there is virtually no history of private entrepreneurship; the oldest private publishing house in Russia was established in 1988.
The crisis facing Russian publishing includes problems such as widespread piracy and the need for new copyright legislation, inflation, supply shortages and a dysfunctional distribution system. Despite these difficulties, steps are being taken, often with guidance from Western nations, especially in areas such as training and education. Two weeks after the Library of Congress conference, for example, a delegation of U.S. publishing and legal experts visited Russia and Ukraine for the first U.S. government- sponsored publisher meetings since the 1991 collapse of the Communist Party apparatus that governed the Soviet book trade. Plans also are proceeding for the 1993 Moscow International Book Fair, which will be held Sept. 7-12.
Both current problems and long-range cultural implications of the transformation were discussed at the Library of Congress conference. The two-day program was organized into five sessions of presentations and discussion: "A Time of Troubles," "Copyright and Legal Structures," "New Western Initiatives," "Information About Books in Russia," and "Commercial Opportunities in Russia and the New States."
A Time of Troubles
After Mr. Ruble of the Kennan Institute delivered his remarks on the importance of the written word to Russia's future, PUBWATCH Director Peter Kaufman spoke, agreeing that "books have always been used by the czars and other Russian governments as the chief means of public education and socialization. Books are also fundamental for our educational, cultural, economic and political development," he observed, commending the Center for the Book for vigorously promoting the culture of the book through its system of state centers and national partnerships.
Mr. Kaufman also described several PUBWATCH initiatives, referring participants to a new publication, 1992 Directory of Western Organizations Assisting Book Culture in Center and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, which is available from PUBWATCH (35 W. 67th Street, New York, NY 10023).
Vladimir Stabnikov of the Russian PEN Centre described some of the contradictions in the Russian publishing world in his talk, "The State, the Book, the Reade, and the Intellectual." The number of titles published has declined sharply, from 84,000 in 1991 to 28,000 in 1992, yet according to a recent survey, reading is still the favorite leisure time activity of the Russian people; television viewing is a distant second.
Vladimir Grigoriev of Vagrius Publishers, addressing "The Travails of the Private Publisher in Russia," described paper and cash shortages and bank loans with interest rates of more than 150 percent. He decried problems of the printing industry, the "chaos" in book distribution, the absence of book information, book reviewing and bibliographic standards and the overall instability of the market. But like Mr. Stabnikov, he noted that a new market is slowing emerging, reminding the audience that Russians are keen book lovers, book collectors and readers.
A grim picture of publishing in Ukraine was painted by Iaroslav Isaievych of the Institute of Ukrainian Studies, who explained that books in his country were far more scarce and expensive than in Russia. Moreover, "book production in Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia is only one-fourth to one-third that of Russia." He also noted that, "among many of the independent states, books are distributed only in the countries where they are published, and magazines are sold only in the town where they are produced."
James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, was introduced by Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole. Dr. Billington stressed the close relationship between democracy and the printed word. He also described the deplorable state of libraries in present-day Russia, a situation that continues to worsen because of the exodus of Russian librarians from their resource-poor libraries to more lucrative jobs in the private sector. Noting that "we cannot talk about publishing without talking about intellectual trends," he expressed concern about the decline in book production in the former Soviet Union at the very time when books were needed the most. "Books teach us how to connect many different ideas, how to find coherence and even national identity," he said.
Copyright and Legal Structures
Eric Schwartz of the Copyright Office described a new copyright law that it is hoped will be approved in Russia. He also stressed the importance of enforcement provisions that would ensure its effectiveness. In a special address, "A Visit to Moscow Regarding the Russian Copyright Law," Charles Ellis, chairman of the Association of American Publishers, emphasized the fundamental importance of copyright and taking action against piracy: "There will not be any real publishing industry until the copyright situation is straightened out."
Vitaly T. Babenko of Moscow's Text Publishers discussed how piracy was rooted in the Soviet system and mentality, and proposed the creation of an internationally financed private company to fight the problem. Stronger measures were advocated by Eric H. Smith of the International Intellectual Property Alliance. He felt that Russia and the new states must adopt "reliable, internationally recognized measures to combat piracy" before the world's publishers and publishing organizations could offer substantial aid.
New Western Initiatives
Philip Altbach of the Comparative Education Center, SUNY-Buffalo, moderated the session on current and proposed assistance programs. Stephen Heyneman of the World Bank, Frank Method of the Agency for International Development (AID) and William J. Lofquist of the Commerce Department described ways in which their agencies might help. Don Davidson of the American Council of Teachers of Russian outlined several international educational projects and the work of a Soros Foundation task force that he heads for the development of new textbooks in the social sciences and the humanities.
In the ensuing discussion, Hilary Olsin-Windecker of USIA described a new USIA education project for scholarly publishers from East European countries that will begin in June 1993 and involve as partners the Association of American University Presses, the University of Nebraska Press and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Irene Steckler, special assistant to the Librarian of Congress for Russia/Commonwealth of Independent States projects, presented an overview of the many LC projects concerned with the book culture of Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet republics.
Information About Books in Russia
In his remarks, "Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusan Books About Books," Edward Kasinec of the Slavic and Baltic Division, New York Public Library, emphasized how scholarship, librarianship and bibliography also have been adversely affected by the crisis in publishing. The dearth of information about books and publishing was demonstrated in a presentation by Gennadi B. Kuzminov, editor of the book review publication Knizhnoe Obozrenie, whose comments were translated and amplified by Gleb Uspensky of Vagrius Publishers.
The role and activities of the Library of Congress's office in Moscow were described by its director, Mikhail Levner (who also, under the sponsorship of the Center for the Book, made a presentation to the LC staff on March 12).
Commerical Activities in Russian and the New States
Hope is the greatest export we can have today," stated Martin Levin, an American who has been involved with publishing in Russia for many years. Andrew Nurnberg, a London-based literary agent who recently opened a Moscow office, offered advice for those doing business with Russian publishers. Charles Clark of the International Publishers Copyright Council discussed publishing contracts. Gleb Uspensky of Vagrius Publishers (and the Task Force Against Book Piracy in Russia) emphasized the need for training and mutual cooperation in his talk, which was titled "Publisher Education and the Development of Commercial Skills." During the discussion, several people advocated increased use, for training purposes, of established U.S. education for publishing courses such as those offered by Stanford University and the University of Colorado.
Concluding comments invoked recurring themes; e.g., Where can resources be best used in this painful but essential move to a market economy in publishing? and How can we move beyond nationalistic approaches to international book development?
Blair Ruble commended the American and British speakers for not "lecturing" to the Russian participants and commended everyone for avoiding the "negative handwringing" that characterizes many conferences concerned with Russia and the new states. Simon Michael Bessie of Pantheon Books, a veteran in international publishing and the chairman of the Center for the Book, posed the basic question, "What's this two-day discussion really been about?" He then answered his own inquiry:
"It's been about Russian literature, which has been the flower of the world for more than 200 years. Our real challenge is to find it, to recognize it, and above all, to publish it."