A War on Russian Literature, One Book at a Time ; A Book-Exchange Program That Encourages Readers to Trade in Certain Books for More 'Patriotic' Ones Reminds Some of Soviet Times

Article excerpt

From the street corners here, a group of activists is waging a battle against what they say are the pernicious effects of modern literature.

"Democracy doesn't mean the open sale of books with foul language, indecent thoughts about one's country, or pornography," says Vasily Yakimenkov, the founder of the group, called Moving Together. "True democracy is when a person can bring in a bad book and exchange it for a good one. That's what we're doing."

While the Kremlin insists it has no connection to the group, Mr. Yakimenko is a former member of President Vladimir Putin's staff, and one of the goals of Moving Together, founded last year, has been to build political support for Mr. Putin among Russia's notoriously apathetic youth.

Well-funded and pro-Kremlin, Moving Together claims a membership of 50,000. The book campaign, launched earlier this month, aims to persuade people to hand over their books from a list of targeted authors - and receive in return a volume by approved "patriotic" writers.

Critics say the operation amounts to old-fashioned book-burning, despite the voluntary facade. "This is fascism lite," says Viktor Yerofeyev, one of the modern authors under attack. "I'm sure these are good kids who want to do something useful for their country, but who gave them the right to impose cultural standards? I'm really worried about where this is going next."

Yakimenko says the exchange is just an "educational exercise" to help young people think about the destructive spiritual effects of dark and pessimistic psychological novels, erotic literature, Marxism, and detective fiction.

Thousands of people have already turned in their old books at street posts manned by the group's activists in a dozen Russian cities, he says.

Among the targeted authors is Viktor Pelevin, a Russian Booker Prize-winner whose widely acclaimed "Generation P" is a dark, philosophical exploration of the post-Soviet Russian soul. Mr. Yerofeyev, whose psychological thrillers have been translated into 30 languages, was slammed as a "pornographer" by Yakimenko during a recent TV debate - because he often spices his gritty prose with obscene words. Polina Dashkova, regarded by many as Russia's best writer of detective mysteries, is also on the list, as is Karl Marx, the intellectual founder of communism. Presumably because he was a patriotic Russian, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin is not. …