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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Culture Figures Plan Council Action

Leading Russian artists, writers and scientists gathered in the offices of the presidential administration Monday to bemoan the decline of Russia's national culture and to advise the president on how best to help the arts.

Some two dozen top cultural figures, including cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, writer Fazil Iskander and actor/director Nikita Mikhalkov attended the first planning session of Yeltsin's new Council on Art and Culture.

The council, whose creation Yeltsin ordered in a July 1 decree, will be formed in the near future to oversee the implementation of the government's program on development and preservation of culture and the arts for the period 1997 to 1999.

The importance of the program was underscored by Yeltsin's advisor on cultural affairs, Sergei Krasavchenko. "We all understand very well that whatever we achieve in the way of financial stabilization, privatization and increasing industrial growth, all this will come to nothing if Russia's traditional values and its culture, which are a treasure for the whole world, are not preserved and developed," he said.

The federal program, published in the official newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta in late July, aims to develop the arts and make them accessible to a wider public, to preserve Russia's cultural and historical tradition, "and to use them as an important factor in the moral consolidation of the country's peoples."

For this purpose, a budget of 31.2 trillion rubles (roughly $6 billion) has been planned for the three-year period, increasing from 9.3 trillion rubles in 1997 to 11.4 trillion in 1999.

As the program states, funding for cultural programs from the federal budget in recent years has been "insignificant" -- rising from only 0.35 percent of total spending on paper in 1993 to 0.87 percent in 1996. Moreover, only 65 to 70 percent of this amount was actually disbursed.

The mood of Monday's meeting was one of frustration and occasional anger at the decline of Russian culture, with the mass media coming in for especially harsh criticism. While stopping short of proposing censorship, many present said that guidelines of moral decency were necessary.

The cultural leaders were not in a mood to rely on bureaucrats. At the suggestion of film director Rolan Bykov, they appealed to Yeltsin to make Russia's top culture official a deputy prime minister, with the clout to fight for a larger share of the federal budget, and sent the president a letter asking that he chair the council himself.

The group was adamant that acting Minister of Culture Yevgeny Sidorov should retain his post.

The culture portfolio was one of seven that remained open when Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin unveiled his new cabinet last week, and rumors have begun to circulate in the press that Yeltsin wished to put a woman in charge of the ministry. Pop singer Alla Pugacheva has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

"What we have read in the press has incited fear, and even panic. In my estimation it is essential that Yevgeny Sidorov remain at his post," said pianist Nikolai Petrov.

"The overwhelming majority of the intelligentsia has built a constructive working relationship with him, and if, God forbid, the post of culture minister is occupied by Pugacheva or the political chameleon [filmmaker Stanislav] Govorukhin, this will lead to catastrophe," Petrov said.