| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

TRANSCRIPT: Vladimir Putin meets with Russian writers attending the Russian Book Union's conference

Vladimir Putin
file photo
Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, again. I am glad to be attending your conference. I know that there are many problems in your field and that you depend, one way or another, on the decisions taken at the government level. This concerns, above all, business elements, auctions, which I have discussed before, the organisation of publishing business, and the provision of paper, etc. In a word, there are the problems as usual, but they are being resolved in one way or another.

I'd like to know which problems are the most important and acute to you and what you can propose regarding their solution. In short, what would you like the bodies of authority and government do for you, above all at the federal level?

Who will be the first to speak?

Mikhail Veller: May I?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, Mikhail Iosifovich.

Mikhail Veller: I know from my experience and general practice that writers mostly talk with the authorities about three things in Russia. First, writers ask for money. Second, writers ask the authorities to publish and promote their books. And third, writers want the authorities to listen to them about how they should govern the country, even though writers themselves are not ready to assume this responsibility. These are the three things I'd like to avoid talking about today because we often forget ­ although this is assumed ­ that people become writers not to take, but to give.

In this sense, politically, writers are liberals because they don't need anything from the state other than properly functioning law enforcement agencies and to be left alone. If they have these two things, the rest does not matter. In this regard, everyone in this audience is probably a separate molecule because writers are always individualists in civil society, and because each of them has his or her own opinion and each thinks about what to do next and is doing what he or she can.

In this respect, everything seems to be good and well in modern literature, which may even be the second most successful industry after the mining and commodity exporting industry. Since 1991, or probably some time before that, when absolutely all of the hindrances were removed, literature ­ both commercial, elite, traditional and post-modernistic (elite) literature ­ maintained high standards, which I, personally, do not recall happening since 1917.

It is another matter ­ I can understand businessmen and politician failing to see the difference, but not when the creative intelligentsia do ­ when people associate their personal welfare with that of the country, the nation, the power... This is in fact not one and the same at all because the people gathered here are successful people one way or another. They are accomplished people who have done it. But the majority cannot do this.

Taking into account that Russian literature started with "The Tale of Igor's Campaign", everything that happens in the country and everything that writers do are inseparable from each other. This brings me to the logical question: "Is it admissible for writers' opinions to differ from official views"? Stalin said in such cases: "I think this is admissible". Some advocate a more rigid policy, while others think it should be more liberal. There will never be harmony. But such things as ­ sorry for starting with this ­ as unpardonably soft punishment for trafficking hard drugs or violent murder is absolutely wrong. Understandably, a writer has a mercenary interest in the prosperity of his country because when the people have no money, they don't buy books, which is a shame.

And one more thing. It has been said more than once that a writer is a function of literature and language, and that language is a function of the nation. In principle, all successful people can leave the country and continue working and realise themselves elsewhere. This concerns musicians, artists, farmers, workers and everyone else, possibly with the exception of two categories ­ politicians, who cannot function outside their country and writers, who cannot exist as writers outside their country because language is a virtual portrait, a virtual form of the nation's existence.

Once journalists ­ I used to work for a newspaper ­ said that the decline began at the turn of the 1990s when Almaty officially replaced the traditional Alma-Ata and Tallin was written as Tallinn. The general acquiescence started at the level of language and continued when we started saying "in Ukraine," although for 300 years we said "in the Ukraine". If Ukrainians think this is how it should be said, let them say so, but why should we change the Russian language?

Why have we changed "vocational schools" to "colleges"? Tell me, why? All of this will have grave consequences because first the Gnessins School was renamed the Gnessins State Musical College and 10 days ago Avdeyev (Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev) signed an order dissolving the Gnessins College and subsequently merging it with the Gnessins Academy of Music. I see this as a tragic mistake because the Gnessins Academy is one of many conservatory-type schools, while the Gnessins School is a global brand on par with the Mariinsky or Bolshoi theatres, or the Soviet circus, and the liquidation of that brand will have a negative impact on the country's international recognition.

Speaking about this recognition... I don't think anyone could imagine that in the Soviet period, Jack London, the best selling foreign author and the only author published in the Soviet Union who was not included in the school programme, was apparently the main figure exercising US influence on the Soviet Union. In a similar way, there is no one who promoted such a negative image of the Soviet Union as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was sent into exile and Joseph Brodsky, who got expelled.

But here and now, when we speak about shaping the country's image, we must not replace the Gnessin School. They should have established something else instead. This is basically what I would like to say to start. Finishing my speech, I want to admit that for many years ­ for about 10 years ­ I have had a dream to invite the entire government for an hour or two and speak about the way things are in the country and what can be done about it, very much like in Martin Luther King's

"I have a dream".

Remark: You can still do it.

Mikhail Veller: I haven't done it yet, but thank you very much for this opportunity to speak in a smaller format.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Veller. I had a similar intention about four years ago. I wanted to show the Security Council and its permanent members ­ not the whole government ­ how the things are. First of all, I invited the scientists from the Academy of Sciences who are competent in the structure of the Universe. But we can step further and discuss the structure of the world in its moral and ethical sense.

Speaking of persons exercising influence, such as Jack London, we have our own figures of influence. They are Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which means our countries influence each other. The East can influence the West as much as the West can influence the East. We have an equally strong basis.

If I may, I will briefly comment on what you have said. First, I have to disappoint you. Asking for money and giving advice on how to rule the country is not a prerogative of writers and publishers. Everyone does that. Everybody knows how to play football. Everybody knows how to play ice hockey. Everybody knows how to rule the country, to manage the economy and the social sphere. Everybody likes giving advice. I think that it is in fact a positive sign when everyone wants to give advice. It means that people care. I am particularly glad to hear the opinion of the intellectual elite, which clearly comprises people who have their own viewpoints and can formulate them so well that other people want to hear them. It is a good sign when these people want to give advice on how to rule the country. We are always willing to hear it.

Furthermore, it is natural that everybody asks for money. One of the government's tasks is to dispose of the federal resources wisely. Therefore, there is nothing shameful about this. So, if our colleagues comment on the management of this industry... Clearly, writing poems and fiction is not an industry, but organising this work is. I will be glad to hear any suggestions and recommendations.

I have already said this in my greeting and I will repeat this once more. Mr Veller, you said that the law enforcement agencies must operate properly. It is the most pressing problem today. With the emergence of the Internet and other modern mass media, the protection of intellectual property comes to the fore. This problem exists not only in our country, but also elsewhere in the world. There is no ultimate solution to copyright infringement. I have recently met with the managers of an international organisation that protects intellectual property rights. They too are struggling to find an efficient remedy, especially since the idea to give everything away for free has consumed the world and it is hard to resist. Therefore, we can see certain parties emerge and win the support of the masses. But we need to get this done nonetheless. And we will try to find a civilised solution. As for whether criticisms regarding the authorities should be more or less harsh, I just don't think there is any point in criticising leadership simply for the sake of criticism. Wouldn't you agree?

Remark: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, criticism is able to produce the desired effect only if it is done so deftly. In my view, the most important thing is for those who engage in criticism not to do so ­ and I don't mean to offend anybody ­ just to satisfy their own vanity. They should instead be motivated by a sincere drive to improve things. Then the odds of receiving a positive reaction will be much higher.

Now on to your point that politicians, as well as writers, cannot emigrate because they are too firmly bound to their native soil. As a matter of fact, self-imposed exile is not an uncommon phenomenon within politics. There's even the notion of a "government in exile." Quite often, politicians are simply compelled to leave their country and settle abroad.

Many authors do the same, and for them it's harder to work away from their native land, of course, because they cannot feels its pulse.

Emigration can be tragic for politicians as well. At any rate, it is something to be avoided. Both politicians and people involved in creative writing need to feel the "chemistry" of their nation from the inside. I hope that in the future, we won't fall into situations in which our fellow countrymen have to leave [Russia] in order to be able to pursue their literary or political activities.

As for the practice of renaming things, this troubles me a great deal as well. If we rename our schools using foreign conventions, this indicates a lack of self-esteem on our part. It means we don't think our own standards are good enough. And so we try to "fix" the problem by changing the title to make them seem better, instead of changing their substance in order to improve them. This is obviously not the right approach. But if you bring up this issue before a wide audience every now and then, the situation could eventually improve.

Street signs and billboards are the first things that catch my eye during visits to regional capitals. I notice that for whatever reason, the names of local restaurants, cafes and shops are all written using the Latin alphabet. Why is this? I believe this is due to a lack of self-esteem and an inferiority complex.

It will take time for us to become aware of our own value as a great nation, a nation that has developed a great culture it can be rightfully proud of.

Of course, we have problems, but we are trying to address them, and we are often no less successful in finding adequate solutions than our opponents are.

I agree about the need for dialogue between the authorities and the artistic community. I hope none of my fellow countrymen will feel that they have to emigrate, and that when engaging in criticism, we will do so in a meaningful way, in a way that seeks to make a real difference, not just for the sake of showing off.

Zakhar Prilepin: Then allow me to say a few words in support of Mikhail Veller's remarks...

Vladimir Putin: What about supporting my remarks? Are you planning to attack me now?

Zakhar Prilepin: My point will also echo your words. I believe that Russian literature is quite competitive, and authors, just like oilmen, make up one of this country's most important groups in society.

The current situation in Russia's literary scene is more or less clear to me. One of the most acute problems seems to be the demise of the distribution network that we had in the Soviet era. As a result, new releases remain beyond the reach of the provinces. As a child, I grew up in rural communities in the Ryazan and Lipetsk regions, and the villages there had excellent bookshops in those days. Now the nearest bookshop is a hundred kilometres or more away. It's clear to me that this problem exists and that it has to be resolved somehow.

But I have absolutely no idea what sorts of problems are facing the oil industry, or some other sector. And there is no one else for me to turn to for an explanation other than you, Mr Putin.

As a Russian author, my attention was caught by your recent remark that Russia now sells as much oil as Saudi Arabia, or maybe more. As I understand it, one of the officials involved in the oil trade is Gennady Timchenko, chief of Gunvor Inc. He made a fortune for himself by selling petroleum, and subsequently applied for Finnish citizenship. He is now a Finnish national. I find this situation somewhat bizarre.

My second question was inspired by Sergei Stepashin's remarks. I remember that Transneft found itself at the centre of a big scandal last year, when its executives were accused of misappropriating $4 billion. Almost one year has passed since then, yet not a single suspect has been identified and no legal proceedings seem to be underway. So I find myself wondering whether that $4 billion simply never existed, or the story was invented by some people who wished Russia ill. If we were offered that kind of money, my fellow writers and I would be happy to carry our books from Moscow to the doorstep of our readers in the provinces ourselves.

Vladimir Putin: Which company are you talking about?

Zakhar Prilepin: Transneft.

Vladimir Putin: In response to the first part of your question, I can say that I've known Mr Timchenko for some time now, since my service in St Petersburg. In those days, he worked for a Kirishi oil refinery, Kirishinefteorgsintez. When the privatisation campaign was launched in the early 1990s, his team, which was involved in oil exports, broke away from the rest of the company in order to start a private business of their own. This new enterprise has gradually been developed.

Timchenko is no stranger to the business; he's been involved in it since the very beginning of the privatisation campaign. Let me assure you that, contrary to allegations in the press, they set up and developed the company all on their own, without any involvement on my part.

But at some point, the turnover became so large that one of their executives had to be sent to arrange work from the other side of the border. And the management chose him for this role.

As far as I know, he has applied for and has been granted Finnish citizenship, but also remains a Russian national. The current visa regulations with Europe make it impossible for our businesspeople to organise exports properly. Many of them have to apply for foreign citizenship to facilitate their operations. Ninety percent simply hide the fact that they hold foreign passports ­ but not him.

Zakhar Prilepin: Are you saying that holding double citizenship is a normal practice?

Vladimir Putin: I believe it's normal that in the modern world a person can choose to live outside his or her native country, yet remain attached to it. That's a perfectly civilised position. For someone such as myself, this would be completely impossible. The same is true for you, I think. But there are people out there, artists or otherwise, who consider themselves to be citizens of the world, and insist that they should be able to live wherever they choose. Many members of the business community, youth and even religious organisations believe they should not be constrained by any borders or visa regulations.

I believe that this is a civilised approach. Let me emphasise once again: as far as I know, Mr Timchenko remains a Russian citizen; everything having to do with his business interests falls into his private affairs, and I have never tried, nor ever will, to interfere. And I hope he will not try to meddle in my affairs either.

As for Transneft and other companies ­ I was at one time chief of the presidential staff's oversight department, and I had to carry out inspections similar to those that Mr Stepashin currently organises. Not all wrongdoings are the same, you know ­ there are offenses, and then there are offenses. Those that have to do with the violation of effective legislation ­ such as theft, robbery, bribe-taking, and embezzlement ­ are punishable under the criminal code.

There are also violations that are not criminal offences, such as improper use of funds. I'm not referring to Transneft specifically but to any region... Let say, the governor was supposed to spend money on housing construction but invested it in improving healthcare instead. He didn't use it appropriately but he didn't steal anything. In principle, this may be the case of Transneft. They were supposed to spend money on one thing but used it differently. This is the first part of Le ballet de la Merlaison and there is also the second one. The Audit Chamber by law must check ­ and is checking ­ budget expenditures. Transneft is a commercial company. They may check it and say: "Look guys, something is wrong with your finances." If they find criminal offenses, they will submit the case to the Prosecutor's Office. Believe me, if there had been such offenses, these people would have been put behind bars a long time ago.

Roman Zlotnikov: Mr Putin, I have a question. Is this meeting a campaign opportunity?

Vladimir Putin: No, the elections are still a ways off.

Roman Zlotnikov: Really? But the election campaign has already begun.

Vladimir Putin: No, I simply hold such meetings from time to time.

Roman Zlotnikov: I asked you this question because if it has to do with the elections, it is simply a waste of time.

Vladimir Putin: You see, Mr Zlotnikov, I don't want to seem impolite, but I don't need such meetings to campaign. I have agreed to it because questions were raised, primarily about book publishing. They are absolutely specific and some of them are commercial. I'd like to make sure that by taking certain decisions to help some players on the market we would not violate the interests of others. It is important to maintain a balance of interests. This is the first point.

Second, our famous writers also have some questions, for instance questions about copyrights or library services, distribution etc. I'm very interested in all these issues and it would be useful for us to discuss them. I could listen to you and do what I can to set things right.

Roman Zlotnikov: In that case I have a suggestion. I suggest that you stop your no-one-is-left-out method of awarding funds.

Vladimir Putin: I haven't yet given anything to anyone.

Roman Zlotnikov: Are you sure? We have programmes to support reading, regional theatres, libraries ­ you name it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, in this sense.

Roman Zlotnikov: Indeed. I think this is waste of money. Take writers, for one. They are long-term people, so to speak. There is no way we can help you win the coming elections but maybe we can help in five years, definitely in 10 or 15 years. I met with guys from the fifth directorate of the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information. They invited me to their veteran organisation ­ I'm an officer myself. I came there and thought to myself: "My God! I'm a sci-fi writer. What shall I tell them?" We started talking. There were five young officers ­ lieutenants and senior lieutenants, the others were much older. All of them were looking at me ­ here's a sci-fi writer, a kind of clown, let's listen to him and tick the box. A young lieutenant stood up and said: "And do you know that at our college we passed your books from one nightstand to another? Could you please sign this book for me?" But it had black endpapers.

I'm telling you that we have a tool for working with the future of Russia. This tool is the image of the future. Unfortunately, we don't have a common image of the future in this country ­ every stratum has its own. The simplest idea is "we want to live like they do in Europe or America". But by the time people have the potential to live like Europeans or Americans, they ask: and why just "like" Europeans and Americans? Why not live in Europe or America?

The second issue is the hierarchy of values and motivation. To keep this "like" we must work with people, probably with those who have the potential, I'm not sure. But we should work with those who will become officers, experts, aides to top managers in 10 years (these people make up the reading public). They will become leaders themselves in 20 years and then we will help you build Russia.

Vladimir Putin: What is your question or suggestion?

Roman Zlotnikov: I think that the no-one-is-left-out policy is wrong. It is important to understand that literature, libraries and theatres are tools and to establish a system for using them rather than spending money on collapsing theatres. We must understand how everything works and create a system and only then allocate funds for filmmaking, theatres, libraries and publishing.

There is, for example, a very interesting instrument: the army. We have a strange perception of it, for some reason ­ we view it either as a prison, or as something that will die for us if necessary, when in fact it is a serious social mechanism that half the nation passes through at some point. This is a training camp. There needs to be a sufficient quantity of men that serve in the army (sorry, ladies, for better or worse, the course of politics in Russia is still determined mostly by men). Occasionally, women complain during elections that there are no worthy candidates to vote for. During their 52 weeks of service, servicemen watch 104 films. They have libraries. There is a crowd in the audience here that I'm sure would be glad to visit these troops, if there were an army support programme in place, and people will read these books. You might say, oh books, people don't read books these days. Let them read books there. Let them pinch books from the libraries and take them home.

Vladimir Putin: And what? What are you proposing? That they steal books?

Remark: Allow soldiers to steal?

Darya Dontsova (penname of Agrippina Dontsova): Mr Putin, may I ask you a question?

Vladimir Putin: Please excuse me. As for women in Russia not participating in politics, there aren't many women in the government, but that doesn't mean they don't participate in politics.

Roman Zlotnikov: No, I'm not saying that they don't participate at all.

Vladimir Putin: In terms of voting, women are more active voters than men, and this is a statistical fact. Therefore, in this sense, they do show interest in who is elected and whom they can trust. And their participation in this area of government formation is significant.

Now, as for supporting all areas of culture, you know that if you forget about one of them, it will just wither away. You said that we don't need theatre, cinema, libraries... What do we need then?

Roman Zlotnikov: We need them to be functional.

Vladimir Putin: But how do we make them functional, Roman?.. Many things annoy and disturb me as well. So, if we just sit down together and try to figure out how to organise this single system... I can assure you that everyone will have their own opinions, perhaps even more than one. Defining priorities amounts to a very complicated process.

Roman Zlotnikov: But it needs to be done.

Remark: May I, Mr Putin?

Vladimir Putin: Just a moment. We are in the middle of a discussion with Mr Zlotnikov.

Roman Zlotnikov: It will not come about all by itself. We are now living with the results of what happened to us.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Roman Zlotnikov: We don't like it. I'm telling you honestly...

Mikhail Veller: May I put in my two cents? Two cents exactly. Comrade Stalin, a wise man and a strong politician, understood quite well the ways in which literature should be used. And when writers who aren't being watched over, thank God ­ because the issue, let me repeat, is not a matter of what writers want from the government, but rather, what writers can do for their country. So, when a writer shouts, "go on, rule over us with a stronger hand," stop and think for a moment about what you are actually saying.

Vladimir Putin: As for organising this work ­ I think you are aware that we have always found ourselves in the same situation as we do now ­ in other words, we have always had our fair share of problems. However, we still manage to stand more or less firmly on our feet. Mr Zlotnikov, dear friends and colleagues, you understand as no one else does that not long ago, the situation we were in and the problems we faced were quite different. We were on the brink of collapse as a nation. This was our absolute reality. We were facing the danger of the yugoslavisation of Russia. This was on the verge of happening. This is certainly not the case now ­ we have managed to head this scenario off. The economy has almost doubled since then, and we are dealing with different challenges and issues now.

Certainly, if we want there to be a future for our nation, we should think about the things that you mentioned: ethical support, and the intellectual and ethical foundations of society. The question has to do with how to engrain them in the mass conscience. This is not as simple as it may seem. We have had many disputes and ideas about different ways to support Russian cinema. We have established the Cinematography Board, a new financing system (I don't know whether it will work effectively or not), and saw orders starting to flow in. The VTB Bank is financing some films. There are other, quasi-governmental sponsors. There is certainly a need to come up with some sort of government order, including in the Armed Forces, if we want there to be modern, patriotic education in our country, so that people will be raised to love their Motherland. I'm not talking about some kind of jingoism, but we want our people to have a deep understanding of our nation, to feel proud of it, to be willing to live here and to want to...

Andrei Konstantinov: Mr Putin, may I comment briefly regarding patriotism?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, but I certainly agree with you that this needs to be dealt with.

Andrei Konstantinov: I wanted to buy a toy tank for my son, since both of his grandfathers went to war. They started as lieutenants and ended the war as lieutenant colonels. My son asked me questions about the war, so I wanted to buy him a Soviet tank with a red star on it, and so on. I couldn't find any. Here is what a friend of mine brought me from Nice in France. It says in Russian, "Kill the Nazi vermin," and is made in China. I also wanted to show him what his grandfather looked like during the Great Patriotic War. This officer figurine is nicely made, featuring a bag, a pistol and decorations just like his grandfather had... It costs 350 euros, and is sold in Russia at the Grand Hotel Evropa in St Petersburg. However, there are no plain toys like that that would be ... In fact, there is a similar situation with patriotic literature.

Vladimir Putin: Listen, Andrei, this is a question that requires ongoing attention. You just mentioned China. It's simply more cost-effective to make them in China. That means we need to proceed in such a way as to make it cost-effective to produce them in Russia. In order to do so, we need to suppress inflation, which was at around 34%-40% some time ago. We now have single-digit inflation of 8%...

Andrei Konstantinov: I understand, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: These things, toy tanks and so on, are being manufactured in China for sale not only in Russia; the entire world is flooded with Chinese-made products and consumer goods. The United States is drowning on Chinese-made goods and they can't do anything about it. The Italian shoe outlets don't carry Italian-made shoes, even though their shoes are of superior quality. These are the realities of economic life today.

Andrei Konstantinov: Mr Putin, what I want to say is that it's all right that it was made in China, but it's unfortunate that you can't find it in stores in St Petersburg. This one was brought from France. And one more thing. I would like to speak about...

Vladimir Putin: These are private stores; we don't have state-owned stores in Russia.

Andrei Konstantinov: I understand. I'm just bringing up a problem, I'm not blaming anyone.

Vladimir Putin: We are aware of this problem.

Andrei Konstantinov: Here is what I wanted to say. We could all benefit from one simple move that could be carried out by senior officials and all government leaders. Not long ago, President Medvedev was asked what he was reading at the time. He smiled charmingly and said he was reading Stieg Larsson (a fine Swedish author, now deceased). We would very much like to hear Russian officials and government leaders talking often about what they are reading from modern Russian literature, and they should talk about their preferences with their subordinates, because this sharing of information is often perceived as instruction. On our part, we...

Vladimir Putin: I will read Zlotnikov. I will read The Empire with pleasure.

Remark: Don't forget to mention it.

Vladimir Putin: I just did.

Remark: Gentlemen, let's give the floor to the ladies.

Darya Dontsova: It's very difficult to shout over men. I would like to add something to what Andrei has just said. I have two points to make.

The first is that, Mr Putin, I have seen you at the controls of a submarine, with a rifle and with a fishing pole, but I have never seen you at the opening ceremony of a bookstore, not ever.

Vladimir Putin: I have been to such ceremonies.

Darya Dontsova: I just haven't seen you. I made a specific search on the Internet. I found one short interview where you said that you liked Turgenev and Hemingway, if I can remember correctly, and that's it. You were at a Moscow Book Fair once. I believe that if our top officials take their cues from you, and I'm sure they will even if only to please you, and finally grab a book...

Vladimir Putin: Why do you think that way about everybody?

Darya Dontsova: You can't force people to read, but if the boss is reading then perhaps they will start reading books as well. It doesn't matter whether these are Soviet or Russian authors. Just read any book, grab a book and start reading.

As for my second point ­ we have here Tatyana Ustinova, Alexandra Marinina, Sergei Lukyanenko and Sergei Minayev (who is not exactly in the same category as the rest, but close enough) who write what are called entertainment books.

Alexandra Marinina (penname of Marina Alexeyeva): The ones that you called light reading.

Darya Dontsova: Exactly. We were offended by this. I was hurt, frankly, because there are millions of people who read our books. To heck with the feelings of the girl writers: no big deal, we'll get over them, no problem. But when you talk about us, you're talking about our readers too.

Alexandra Marinina has 1.2 million copies printed each month, and same goes for Tatyana Ustinova and myself. I'm not sure about Lukyanenko and Minayev, but I assume their numbers are about the same. We are talking about a vast readership. You know, someone may start with Dontsova and switch to Pushkin later when he or she grows accustomed to holding a book. This is already good progress. You divide readers into black and white, clean and unclean, good literature and easy reading. Is that not the case?

Vladimir Putin: No. In his time, people considered Alexander Dumas to be a writer of easy fiction, but that does not mean that his name will be forgotten tomorrow. We all read his books when we are young. I adored his Three Musketeers, I almost went out of my mind as I was reading it. But I didn't mean to say that this is bad literature. What I meant is that we need to make sure that our readers don't lose interest in the Russian classics, books that are in their nature deep and philosophical reading. That was the point. I didn't mean to offend you when I referred to "easy reading". Why did you decide that this is something degrading?

Darya Dontsova: That's the way it sounded. That was my impression...

Vladimir Putin: If it sounded that way, then please accept my apologies.

Darya Dontsova: You may be aware that characters in Marinina's books often read Russian classics.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes.

Darya Dontsova: Ustinova's characters also read classical Russian literature. People who read our books know a thing or two about the classics.

Vladimir Putin: As I said, if it sounded that way to you then I apologise. As for the media taking pictures of Mr Medvedev or me with a book during a bookstore opening ceremony or at a book fair, I think it's a good idea that we should move ahead with. Let me assure you that dairy producers ask me to appear in public holding a glass of milk. Meat producers want to see me publicly eating Russian-made meat products, and so on. In all seriousness, that's what they say and what they ask me to do. We need to think about other things, although this is also important. Any positive example is always good, but we should be focusing on the economic aspects. A printed book costs around 400 roubles, while an e-book costs between 70 and 80 roubles, 100 at the most. These proportions are about the same in the United States, the only difference is in the currency. What we need to do is make printed books even cheaper than their electronic counterparts, which will make the book business a sound economic endeavour. These are the realities. They will no doubt buy even more of your books.

We have to think about how we can accomplish this. Today, this can be done only in the condition of direct subsidies from the government. Is this possible under the current budget? Perhaps not, but we need to think about how we can get there. We will need to subsidise the industry that manufactures the necessary quality of printing paper, as well as some other things. There are many levers that can be engaged. These are things that we all, especially the government, need to focus on.

Oleg Novikov (General Director of Eksmo publishers): Mr Putin, may I say a few words about the industry? Subsidies are exactly what the industry does not need. The industry has a VAT break, which has been quite effective during the past 20 years.

Remark: It should be set at 10% for electronic products, because 18% is...

Oleg Novikov: Thank you for that alone. Let them allow us to work and not interfere with what we do. As soon as they try to help, things only get worse. Mr Putin, please don't do too much to help us. We will cope on our own. Only don't interfere.

Vladimir Putin: Fine. We won't any longer.

Oleg Novikov: Let them comply with the laws. The industry is at a point of major change. We have been effectively growing for the past 20 years, have joined the ranks of the top five global publishers in terms of titles, the market was up until 2008 and reached 3 billion roubles in turnover without any outside help. Our national authors are the most popular...

Vladimir Putin: I believe it's 2 billion. Six billion now, I think.

Oleg Novikov: It's down now... However, national writers are most popular in two countries: the United States and Russia. The industry should receive due credit for preserving our national literature during the 1990s. Yes, there were certain tax breaks provided by the government, and that's all we need. Indeed, there are requirements today that seek to protect the industry and comply with regulations, and the industry will do fine on its own. Internet piracy is a global threat to the market. It may be that the authors present here today will stop writing tomorrow, because they won't be able to make any money from it. Western writers enjoy real protection, and they are not facing this global threat. Internet piracy accounts for 10% of the market, while the legal market in the United States is more than 10% of the overall market. In Russia, the legal market is 10% of the illegal market.

There are laws in place, but these laws are weak and they are poorly enforced. Regardless of how much we talk with officials about it... Yes, the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media supports us, but in reality, they tend to bring things to a standstill. In the West, responsible parties include both the manufacturer and the consumer, the copyright holder. Things tend to be very tough in Germany: they summon you to a prosecutor's office or tax office the next day to ask if you used a piece in question. Then they will cut you off and issue a warning... Of course, Russia is not prepared to do this, and we don't need it right now. What we really need is to have at least a political directive, because people lately keep talking about how information needs to be open. No one is saying that there is no need to pay for it, but then people realise that protection is not mandatory, because they will simply open their Internet browsers tomorrow; information should be accessible, but there is no law enforcement there, which makes things difficult for us... And so on, and so forth ­ you are well aware of the situation. It's very important that we at least have a political declaration about the need for copyright protection.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Novikov, that's exactly how I formulated my position when I spoke today. I fully agree with you ­ we need protection.

more to be posted soon...

Russia, Government, Politics - Russia, Media, Internet - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet