S. Ossetia Purportedly Burns Scores Of Books

Hundreds of Georgian books and classics have been burned in a hush-hush bonfire to clear the shelves of South Ossetian libraries for books donated by Russian authorities, activists said.

But South Ossetian authorities denied the book burning, and the rector of the university where it purportedly occurred said only “obsolete textbooks” had been discarded — and they hadn’t been burned.

Opposition journalist Alan Tskhurbayev said he saw uniformed soldiers throw hundreds of books onto a fire outside a dormitory at South Ossetian State University, according to a web site run by the respected Russian human rights group Memorial, Kavkaz-uzel.ru.

The Sept. 10 fire devoured hundreds of books, a third of them “Georgian,” as well as valued classics like writings by 18th-century German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Slon.ru news portal reported.

Timur Tskhovrebov, editor of South Ossetia’s only independent newspaper and a former field commander in separatist conflicts with Georgia, told Slon.ru, “I fought the Georgians; I fired bullets into them. But why destroy books, literature?”

South Ossetia needed to free space in its libraries for books that it was expecting from Russia, Slon.ru said. Russian authorities have been collecting books for the separatist region, which Moscow recognized as independent last year, it said. Slon.ru posted photographs purporting to depict the book burning.

Opposition journalists said the purge of library shelves took place at the bidding of the rector of South Ossetian State University, Teimuraz Kokoyev.

But Kokoyev denied the claims of the book burning Wednesday. “There was no fire. We only disposed of obsolete textbooks, and in a humane way,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

A spokesman for South Ossetia’s Press and Mass Communications Ministry said he didn’t know anything about the fire and any photos of it were fabricated. “It might be a provocation,” he said by telephone from Tskhinvali.

South Ossetian activist Lira Tskhovrebova, who promoted the cause of the separatist region in the United States last year, said by telephone that she had received no news of the book burning and if there had been one, it was being kept under wraps.

Georgian Reintegration Minister Temus Yakobashvili told The Moscow Times that he believed the book burning had occurred and that it was an act of revenge against the central government in Tbilisi. “This step places the self-proclaimed independent South Ossetians on par with the fascists,” said Yakobashvili, who handles all matters that concern South Ossetia and Georgia’s other separatist region, Abkhazia.

Georgians have burned books before, albeit in Abkhazia during the conflict there in the early 1990s. Book burning has been a common practice throughout history. The Catholic Church burned scores of “heretic” texts at the time of the Inquisition. The Nazis burned 18,000 books by Jewish and other “degenerate” authors, including Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Thomas Mann, in the 1930s.