We are being pushed towards bankruptcy and
The celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Kremlin museums is a bright spot in our cultural life this March. The museums date from the establishment of an Armorial Hall by Alexander I.
The celebrations were conducted at the highest level, as demonstrated by the attendance of the President and the Patriarch. A solemn gathering was held in the St Andrew's Hall of the Kremlin, a place where events are held rather rarely unless the President himself participates. Museum managers sat in the front row as honored guests representing both domestic Russian and foreign museums.
The high level of the festivities can, of course, be explained by the
fact that the museums are located in the Kremlin, though at the same time
this is an honor extended to museums in general. The President himself
stated this in his speech. He especially commented on the importance of
museums in the cause of promoting Russian statehood and in bringing up
the younger generation. This is very important, and we are always saying
this. Museums are not merely storage facilities for certain objects or
just institutions providing some services to the public. They fulfill
a very important task for the State: they preserve, collect, study and
put on display our cultural treasures, the features which distinguish
man from beast and one nation from another.
We said this at the gathering of the Union of Museums of Russia which was held not long ago in Orenburg. Our Union was created five years ago for the sake of maintaining a common museum platform. At our meetings, we have been discussing our strategy and line of conduct. Today the strategy is linked to the adoption of new laws. The concern we feel over these laws is aroused by specific things. We have the impression that museums, as well as other cultural institutions, are not merely being pointed, but are being pushed towards bankruptcy and destruction.
A policy is being developed which damages culture. This policy is not
directed specifically against museums. It is oriented towards developing
the market and amounts to a leveling of one and all. Perhaps this leveling
policy for market relations is the correct way to go, but it is fatal
At the same time, museums face the real threat of losing a part of the funds which they saved up to now. The Soviet regime gave them the right to keep what they earn. This helped many cultural organizations to survive even the most difficult times. The new draft budget code eliminates the right of museums receiving financing from the state budget to dispose of the funds they have earned or otherwise attracted.
If we are deprived of the freedom to dispose of our money, we lose all stimulus to earn it. People tell us repeatedly that we are earning money off of state property. But capital earns nothing if it is just dead weight. If talent is buried in the ground, it is not talent. The museums' activities lend value to things which they store, study and put on display for people...
The new law on tenders also is incomprehensible, to put it mildly. It does not and cannot work in the area of culture. It is understandable that when a building is going to be built, there should be a tender. But it is peculiar to hold a tender for the staging of a show or to put on celebrations relating to the anniversary of the Kremlin museums. Is Mosfilm supposed to arrange a tender for Mikhalkov, Todorovsky and someone else to decide who make a film based on a script written by Nikita Mikhalkov? One has to understand once and for all that there are spheres for which other forms of settling matters are needed. Leveling in its market form is not better than in its political-ideological form.
Nowadays we see much too much haste in preparing the articles of incorporation for cultural institutions and everything relating to science is thrown overboard. Museum management is a complex of disciplines including education, preservation, science and popularization. The Hermitage's reputation is made not only by its collections but also by the research work it created and continues to create to this day, as well as by the names of its scholars. Museums are not being allowed to consider themselves scientific establishments, to retain scholarly staff and graduate students. The Hermitage should have its own graduate fellows, as it has up till now. But people tell us that this is not needed and that we should earn our living exclusively by providing paid services.
This does not just affect museums. I participated in an outside meeting of the State Duma's Committee on Science. The same kinds of problems were discussed there. People say that a research institute should be engaged in research and not engage in teaching, which should be left to others. Among the arguments one hears are the following: why do we need all these complexities? The pay is various. Let's solve things in a simple manner.
At the same time, the State is using the law to reduce its obligations with respect to culture. It is withdrawing its statements about guaranteed financing and in the coming years does not anticipate any increases in subsidies. It is prepared to support culture, but only to the extent necessary to offer services to the population. What is the result? Following the end of the Soviet regime, we long lived in a situation where there were state obligations plus a certain degree of freedom to earn money and take decisions. What are we being offered now? The State obligations are being significantly curtailed while the degree of control is being sharply increased and in the future freedom of action will be liquidated.
It is difficult to complain about control. It is necessary and more so than direction. But it should be prudently tested. We have already lived through control at the lower levels, from the part of bureaucrats. In such a situation, it is difficult to get decisions but endless checks and controls go on.
We have to give thought to changing the situation that has developed. A few days ago there was a meeting of the working group of the President's Council on Culture. Together with representatives of the various ministries we discussed what we don't like about the legislation and how it can be corrected with our help. If everything is left as it is, the reforms will result in a significant part of our museums going bankrupt and their property falling into the hands of others. We are losing state guaranties, the possibility to earn money, and in market conditions this leaves us defenseless.
Now that a new stage in the distribution of property has arrived, when the price of art objects has risen many times, there is a struggle over property in historic centers and there are quite a few interested observers. The museums, as a rule, occupy buildings in city centers with landmark character, and there is always the danger that they will be torn down in order to build something new on these locations. This does not threaten the Hermitage, of course, but it is a risk for hundreds of museums across the country.
Finally, there is a philosophical aspect to this issue. There is a fight going on for the minds of the younger citizens of this country. Who is target audience of show business, starting with the film Dnevnoy dozor and ending with Fabrika zvezd? Young people, of course. Our younger generation is fine, but it often follows the wrong path onto which it is led by profit-making vendors of culture. We also are working on behalf of young people and we try to give them a proper upbringing. This is the objective of our programs for schoolchildren, for children generally, for university students, and our free of charge entrance to the museum. If we lose our freedom to decide our own affairs and our financial base, we will lose this battle. Cultural institutions are not able to win a fight over revenues booked.
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