"Don' tear your hair - find a way to reach
Just about a month ago I wrote two letters to the President. One was in the name of the Union of Russian Museums and dealt with the problems of museums and our state priorities. I wrote the second one in my capacity as Deputy President of the Council on Culture, saying that the word "culture" has to be spoken aloud if bureaucrats at the local level are to avoid thinking that it is over and done with. I also wrote that as we approach the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dmitry Sergeevich Likhachev it is time for us to turn the declaration on the rights of culture that he wrote into a foundation for our state strategy. We have to remember that culture has rights.
Why is this important just now? Today the issues surrounding culture are viewed in the first instance from the standpoint of state priorities and their inclusion or exclusion. I don't know what culture has to do to become one of the national projects. And exactly what is a national project? This is an area where reforms and everything that was done in good faith finally failed. It was declared that as soon as a medical education is paid rather than free it will become high quality and accessible for everyone. Nothing of the sort happened. Changes in the field of education only lead to our getting a multitude of uneducated people. Reforms which should give a positive result collapsed and we have to fill these "holes" urgently by spending investment money.
Culture is in a somewhat different situation. In principal, its priority is higher than the so-called national projects. It is a national priority. In one of his speeches, the President said that we always paid little attention to both the army and culture; and he promised that this will not continue in the future. He named precisely the Army and culture.
The army and culture. Security and culture. These are the main priorities of a state in general. In any state, medicine and education live on their own when there is a proper correlation of money. The culture and security of a country and of each individual person are the main, the highest priorities. This high level is acknowledged, but you have to talk about all this aloud.
Honestly speaking, for the major museums of Moscow and Petersburg, it is not so important whether culture is or is not counted among the priorities. They are renowned and they have special resources. But in the provinces and during the Soviet era, when the word "culture" was spoken in a low voice, the big bosses said: "stop coming to us with your requests." Now, when this hesitation to pronounce the word has disappeared, they seem to be saying: "we will get along without you."
We now see a process of turning over many museums to the municipal level. In parallel there is discussion on how they should pay their own way. For the smaller museums, this is beyond their strength. The large ones can perhaps do it, but they should not have to: they do not earn enough money to pay for full-fledged functioning.
We also hear about a reform in the area of government budgets. Museums are given a choice. They tell us: if you are financed by the state, then you should turn over to the state everything you earn. If you want to keep your independence, the state will pay you for services but for all the rest, you should manage on your own; and if you cannot manage, you will go bankrupt. The collections will not be taken away; but everything else can be seized, including the building.
To sum up, museums have entered a high risk zone and they can disappear. The disappearance of small museums brings with it many important consequences. Firstly, a temple of spirituality disappears. Secondly, there is the question of what will happen to the treasures they are safeguarding. The idea is that they should be transferred to other museums. Thirdly, we should not forget about the territory which they occupy. In cities this is, as a rule, landmark buildings in the very center. There are a lot of problems, but it is senseless to cry and scream over this. We must find means which can alter this situation.
What can we do? Our creation of the Union of Russian Museums was not without purpose. Perhaps at a certain moment we had our doubts as to why we were doing this when the International Council of Museums exists. This past year has shown that our Union has its work cut out for it and this will be so for a long time to come.
The Union of Russian Museums is taking an active part in the work of the Presidential Council on Culture. We have a working group which is busy with reforms to the legislation on the budgetary sphere. We have worked a lot together with the Union of Theatre Professionals and other cultural institutions and with lawyers. We have had discussions with the Ministry of Economic Development. As a result, the documents which have been prepared and which are now being submitted to the Government were considerably improved compared to the originals.
Firstly, we restored the words about the state's obligation to finance culture. Secondly, we described there a mechanism for this to happen. The founder should pay not only for some services or other but, let's say - and this is important for museums and libraries - for the safeguarding and storage. Services are not our main function. We should be preserving the cultural legacy, collecting it, studying it, restoring it - and only when this is done are we displaying it. The State should support all of this. In various ways this has gone into the draft laws. We introduced many changes in the matter of supervisory boards and controls...I hope these corrections are kept.
The state is striving to reduce its obligations and increase its control. We should do everything to ensure that state obligations are kept, even if we cannot increase them. We fought for our intitiatives and they were adopted. Now we have to watch over them during all the stages of the process - in the Government and in the Parliament.
In parallel with this, we are busy with the problems facing the small municipal museums. At our conferences in Moscow and Stavropol we have exchanged information about our experience, both negative and positive. People listen when others explain to them what should be done and how. In certain cases, as occurred in Stavropol, small museums should be turned over not to the municipal government but to large museums - making them into branches. One can undertake some legislative measures in the localities. By way of example, let us take the property tax. According to the Tax Code, everyone should be paying this, including cultural institutions. But in Petersburg we have a law which exempts cultural institutions from this tax. It gives tax breaks both to local and to federal institutions. The Hermitage will not pay the property tax thanks to the Petersburg Tax Code and not to the federal one.
On the other hand, the same Tax Code says that we have to pay a land tax. Major cultural institutions like the Hermitage are exempted from this tax, but many other federal and certain city institutions have not been exempted. Here we have to work with local laws. In the city legislation there is a law according to which cultural institutions created by the city are freed from paying the land tax. Such a loophole exists. We have to find other tax loopholes as well.
Reduced fees have been abolished and we should apply all our efforts to restoring them, if necessary in another form. Cultural institutions should never use the same yardsticks as are applied to commercial organizations. If you force them to earn as much as possible and to pay more taxes, they will die. They will die either literally or figuratively if they strive to make money by any means. There are such tendencies afoot in Russian culture.
The Union of Russian Museums and the Union of Museum Workers collaborate with the Administration of St Petersburg. When difficult situations arise, we try to explain the specific issues surrounding the work of museums, libraries and cultural institutions. We have our specific features. By way of example, I can say that what would constitute a terrible sin for a commercial organization - some missed opportunity - is an entirely different matter in museum affairs. Museums generally should be free. On the other hand, what may not be very important for a commercial organization, such as the failure to invite the "right" people to some celebration, or letting the "wrong" people manage a reception, does not threaten a museum with loss of face. There is no crime in it. Only we can explain this.
We are constantly working together with the Administration of the city. The celebrated case of Palace Square is an example of this. We find ourselves in an uninterrupted dialogue and are trying to find a solution which will let the film festival proceed while not overstepping the bounds of what we consider can and cannot be done. I have in mind the threat to the security of both the Hermitage and Palace Square, the Regulations governing use of the Square, the rights of the museum, and the rights of culture...I think that if we speak calmly and seek solutions rather than tearing our hair, we can always come to terms.