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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Culture Marks Changing of the Guard

Flowers were exchanged and a few tears shed Monday at the Culture Ministry where Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuyev presented the new minister, Natalya Dementyeva, and thanked the outgoing government veteran, Yevgeny Sidorov.

"The change of ministers is dictated by the times," said Sysuyev. "We believe that today new impulses are needed."

Sysuyev, who is in charge of the social sector in the Cabinet, said the role of culture as a basis of Russian statehood should be revived.

Last week President Boris Yeltsin signed decrees replacing Sidorov as culture minister and instituting a state television channel called Culture.

The moves are being billed as a change in government policy, putting more emphasis on the demands of Russian intellectuals to increase funding and give more prominence to culture on the government's agenda.

Dementyeva she could not speak about her plans in any detail until she gets acquainted with the ministry.

"The scale of the work does not frighten me," she said.

On Friday, Yeltsin dedicated his radio address to the Culture television channel. "Government support of culture is one of the main areas of our policy," said president.

"It is evident that the government, the presidential administration and the president himself feel the danger of losing the nation's cultural identity," said Mikhail Shvydkoi, former deputy culture minister, who was appointed to head the new television channel.

Sysuyev made it clear Monday that the Russian government leadership, including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, are throwing support behind Dementyeva and promised that increased funding will follow.

The proposed 1998 budget earmarks 0.7 percent of spending for culture, which is more than the previous budget's 6 percent, but far less than what the ministry had sought.

Dementyeva, 51, made her reputation as an energetic director of the St. Petersburg city historical museum, which is located in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Unlike her predecessors as heads of the Culture Ministry, who were party apparatchiks in the Soviet era and highbrow Moscow intellectuals since perestroika, she is the first practical manager of a cultural establishment outside of Moscow to rise to the high position.

Sidorov, a noted literary critic, earned wide respect in Russia's cultural circles during his 5 -1/2 years in the government and survived several Cabinet shakeups. He was unable, however, to make the cash-strapped government pay more attention to culture.

He was given a warm farewell in the Monday ceremony and had a hard time holding back tears. He lashed out at the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta for saying last week that he had been passive in pressing the government for money.

Sysuyev emphasized Dementyeva's practical skills in successfully running a cultural institution during a difficult period. He denied reports attributing her appointment to her alleged association with the so-called St. Petersburg Group of reformers who have risen to high places in the federal government.

Sysuyev said he wants the Culture Ministry to pay more attention to provincial libraries, music schools and museums, and not to high-profile events in Moscow -- a clear jab at the lavish celebrations organized by Mayor Yury Luzhkov for the capital's 850th anniversary celebrations this month.