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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foundation For the Future

Yury Shchekochikhin was talking on the radio when a man entered the studio and made a pronouncement that would have great resonance in Shchekochikhin's life.


"He said 'the future belongs to those who trade in the kiosks'", said Shchekochikhin. "All night I thought about those who don't know how to trade in kiosks, and the next day I began work to set up our foundation".


Shchekochikhin is now the president of a foundation designed to help the young Russian intelligentsia.


Although the foundation was originally Shchekochikhin's idea, he quickly gained the support of others. The foundation's council includes an impressive list of 40 of the country's leading intellectuals: from Vera Sidorova, who is the wife of Yevgeny Sidorov, Russia's minister of culture, to famous poets, writers and journalists.


The foundation -- "The Higher Non-Party School" -- is the first of its type established in Russia. Despite the unwieldy English translation, the Russian name carries deeper significance. Unlike the old Communist Party schools, it implies a training place free of ideology, but the official sound of the name suggests that there will be external support and funding.


The goals of the foundation are varied. In addition to providing financial support for younger members of the Russian intelligentsia -- artists, writers, academics -- Shchekochikhin hopes the fund will provide moral support and a medium for the free exchange of ideas and experience.


"Money is not the only way to help", he said. "The function of the foundation is to bring artists together for support".


The organization specifically targets intellectuals, up to the age of 33, who are working in the humanities.


"It is most important to help the young, because they are our future", Shchekochikhin said. "The importance of the intelligentsia is perhaps more significant to Russians than to Westerners. Without our intelligentsia, there would have been no perestroika, no Gorbachev.


The future is bleak for Russia's young intelligentsia. They no longer receive financial support from the state and are forced to turn to less creative jobs, often ones that have little to do with their intellectual interests. Or they emigrate, Shchekochikhin said.


Losing state support also means that young writers cannot travel to cities and meet and exchange ideas with older people in their profession.


"The Writer's Union used to have a special commission for youth that held seminars for young members led by famous writers", Shchekochikhin said.


The Writer's Union also used to gather gifted young people from around the country, especially from the provinces, for seminars and workshops. Shchekochikhin would like to focus the fund's efforts on young intellectuals in the provinces, as they are the most isolated of all.


The foundation quickly got off the ground, with grants from the Gorbachev and the Nixon foundations. These will sponsor young, gifted people, chosen by the foundation's council. They will receive the chance to study abroad, all expenses paid.


"It is very important now to integrate the youth of Russia into world culture, so that they realize that they are not isolated. Of course, we hope they will return to Russia", Shchekochikhin said.


The foundation has also received support from Russian companies, and is soliciting additional financial support from Western foundations and leaders. Shchekochikhin has written to President Bill Clinton, Francois Mitterrand and Chancellor Helmut Kohl for assistance.


Shchekochikhin is well qualified to lead such a foundation. A journalist for many years, he wrote articles about youth for Komsomolskaya Pravda, and now heads the investigation department at Literaturnaya Gazeta.


The foundation has ambitious projects designed to change the way people are educated here. "We would like to write a new text book of Soviet history -- a good textbook written by young and new historians", he said.


"At a time when Russia is struggling with economic and political reform, losing the intelligentsia would be a disaster for Russia", said Shchekochikhin.


"During all our history, the intelligentsia was cut off, kicked out of the country, placed in jail or went underground", he said. "But somehow, they always came back -- like a phoenix.