Russia’s culture ministry has promised to launch an inquiry after authorities in one region burned at least 50 books and confiscated dozens more from university libraries because they contain sentiments “alien to Russian ideology”.
Educational authorities in the Komi republic, a region in Russia’s Arctic northwest, said they destroyed 53 books found in the library of the Vorkutka Mining and Economics College because they were published with money from the Soros Foundation, a philanthropic foundation that was effectively banned in Russia last year.
“We removed their entries from the catalogue, took the books downstairs and burnt them in bins in the college courtyard,” Elena Vasileva, a college librarian, told a local news site.
In a letter published on Wednesday, Komi regional education officials said the books had been pulled from libraries under instructions from Andrei Travnikov, a deputy of Vladimir Putin’s official envoy to Russia’s northwestern federal district.
Besides the 53 books burned at the Mining and Economics College, the regional education ministry said 14 books found in the Vorkutka Polytechnic would be shredded, and that the Ukhtinsky State Technical University had been advised to take similar "measures for removal" of 413 Soros-published volumes found in its library.
The admission follows the leak of a letter, purportedly from Mr Travnikov to Tamara Nikolaeva, the deputy head of the Komi regional government, last month.
In the letter, scanned copies of which appeared on the internet in December, Mr Travnikov said books published by the Soros Foundation “give young people a distorted perception of national history and popularise sentiments alien to Russian ideology“.
Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian minister of culture, called the book burning “unacceptable” and strongly denied his ministry would have sanctioned such a decision.
“I have asked for materials, an investigation, to establish what happened,” Mr Medinsky said. “Book burning looks so bad and raises such historical associations that, in my view, it is completely unacceptable,” he added.
Russia's General Prosecutor's Office essentially banned two branches of Soros' charity network in November, placing the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) on a "stop list" of foreign non-governmental organizations whose activities were deemed "undesirable" by the Russian state.
George Soros, a Hungarian-born American billionaire, is viewed with deep suspicion in Russia because of his funding of civil society groups that can be critical of the government.