Ukraine-Russia Book Battle Escalates
Ukraine bans books from Russia. Publishers fear shortage.
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
The Ukraine may soon face a book shortage, publishers say, after the country’s parliament passed a ban on the importation of books from Russia. The ban, which has been under consideration for several months, reportedly caught publishers off guard. Many now fear that the prohibition, slated to be in place through the end of winter, will result in a reading material drought.
The legislation is the latest escalation in an ongoing culture war that culminated most prominently in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Russia has for years suppressed certain branches of Ukrainian literature. In late 2015, the Ukraine in turn banned 38 Russian language texts that spread, according to Ukrainian State Television and Radio Committee, “hate ideology” and amounted to “information warfare.” The country also banned certain films deemed to glorify Russian security service and declared persona non grata several Russian entertainers, as well as French defector Gérard Depardieu, who, in addition to acquiring Russian citizenship, has also acquired a penchant for befriending authoritarian rulers with old age.
The new book ban will be a heavy blow to the Ukrainian book buyers market. As reported by the Guardian, Russian imports account for up to 60% of Ukrainian book sales. Publishers say that translation expenses and relatively meager domestic demand explain (in part) the reliance on Russian imports. Ivan Stepurnin of Ukraine’s Summit Books told the Guardian that he expected the ban to result “in a shortage of books in various sectors of the market — especially in educational literature and world classics.”
Russia, never a bastion of free expression, has over the last six years banned hundreds of Ukrainian books on the supposed grounds that the titles incited ethnic conflict. Some of those books were allegedly found in the Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow in a 2015 raid, leading to the arrest of the library’s director, Natalya Sharina. Sharina has been confined on house arrest since the time of the raid and continues to maintain her innocence. Her trial, which began in November 2016, levels charges of distributing “anti-Russian propaganda” and embezzlement. Amnesty International and other human rights groups continue to call for Sharina’s release. Last week, it was announced that she was filing an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has jurisdiction over human rights violations in Russia. The Court has not yet responded to the application.