Russia faces a cultural meltdown

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An article in the "Financial Times" for October 28th, 1996 describes the catastrophic situation facing every cultural institution in Russia, including even the most famous ones. Continuous budget cuts had already whittled the national budget for culture and the arts from between 3 and 4 percent of the GNP during the Soviet period to under one percent of a much smaller GNP last year. Yet even this low figure has not been funded, and last month it was announced that from now on the federal budget will only cover 35 per cent of employee wages and leave nothing for maintenance, utility bills, supplies or other expenses. A number of demonstrations of museum, library and theatre staff have been held, but to no avail. In a climate where the miners and the soldiers don't get paid, and the Far North is facing a winter without adequate provisions, the situation of every cultural institution in Russia is desperate.

The article quoted the director of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Gusev, who suggested that the building housing the museum will soon be destroyed because there are no funds to repair the exposed brickwork. The director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky, is making plans to shut down the institution by stages.

"If we do not get the money for wages and heating, we first of all will close parts of the museum. Then the next stage will be to restrict the hours of opening so we use only daylight, as in the 19th century. Then the next is when everything is cut the heating, the electricity and we will come to the siege-like situation of the war."

A similar situation is facing other famous museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg like the Tretiakov Gallery, the Bolshoi Opera, the Mariinsky Theatre and many others. What goes for these central and world famous institutions of course extends to the provinces and to lesser known institutions. Museums, libraries, archives, theatres, cultural clubs, in short, the whole cultural superstructure of an industrial society is being destroyed.

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