Last week, more than 1,000 people signed a letter issued by PEN International decrying Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Over the weekend, several hundred Russian publishing professionals issued their own public condemnation of the invasion. Many Russian publishers too have stood together to criticize Putin's horrible war.
The letter reads, in translation:
We, Russian book publishers, booksellers, editors, translators, critics, illustrators, designers, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, librarians, and booksellers, protest against the war unleashed by the Russian authorities in Ukraine. The war must cease immediately, and the initiators and participants of the military aggression must be stripped of their ranks and titles and brought to justice.
Books are one of the main forms of preserving and transmitting human experience. And all this experience accumulated over the centuries teaches us: war is a crime, and the value of human life is unconditional. War must be stopped!
The letter was signed by representatives from numerous independent bookstores and publishing houses, including Bumkniga, Chuk i Gik -- the publishing house of the Pushkin Foundation -- Sinbad, Alt Graph, Jaromír Hladík Press, Pollen Press, Corpus, Cloudberry, White Crow and several others.
Despite the war, some Russian publishers are still trying to do business with Ukrainian publishing houses. Svetlana Feldman of the Ukrainian publishing house Acca, based in Kharkov, reports that a representative from a Russian publishing house had reached out to her as bombs rained down on her city to renew rights for a medical dictionary. Feldman's reply (translated) read: '"F@ck you, Russian publisher." Sorry. That's our meme." The meme echoes the reply Ukrainian border guards gave to a Russian warship which demanded their surrender on the first day of the war.
Russia's Eksmo Takes Some Blame
Eksmo is the largest general trade publisher in Russia, publishing some 10,000 titles a year and is responsible for approximately 30% of total book sales annually. Today, Evgeny Kapyev, general director of Eksmo issued an open letter, addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in which he notes that publishers could have done more to foster greater "mutual understanding."
The publishing house is banned from operating in Ukraine as a result of it having been accused by by the Ukrainian State Committee of Television and Broadcasting of disseminating propaganda. In an interview with PW in November 2021, Kapyev said the publishing house was free of political influence.
Kapyev's open letter, published today, reads in full:
Dear publishers, authors, translators!
These days the world is going through an enormous, dreadful tragedy. War and its victims are unjustifiable, and further conflict escalation can cause irreversible consequences.
Our employees, authors, collaborators, and I personally, have relatives in Ukraine, and these are the most horrible and desperate days for many Russians as well as for the Ukrainians. Our children exchange messages with their Ukrainian friends – those, who have to hide in the Kyiv and Kharkov basements and bomb shelters – and can’t understand what a mess those adults have made, how they could possibly get to this point.
In my opinion, we – publishers - are also responsible for what has happened. We are one of those responsible for the development of humanity ideas and mutual understanding. And the fact that for many people, still using weapons to settle an argument, rather than words, is our dramatic deficiency. And it means that as the general director of the largest Russian publishing house, I didn’t do my best to prevent this situation.
I hope and I pray for the soonest peaceful resolution of the current situation, but we have to learn our lesson and build more cultural bridges to forever eliminate the use of weapons in a controversy.
General Director of Eksmo Publishers
Georgia Publishers Condemn Attack
In addition, the Georgian Publishers Association has published its own letter protesting the invasion. The letter is referencing the year 2008 when Georgia was attacked by Russia and its capital Tbilisi was bombed.
The letter from the Georgia's Publishers and Booksellers Association states:
We, Georgian Publishers and Booksellers - the citizens of Georgia - who have experienced the devastating consequences of Russian imperialism and aggression, express our unconditional support for the fight of the Ukrainian people against Putin's Russia. We comprehend that this process requires enormous sacrifice and is associated with the human tragedy for every Ukrainian, but we strongly believe that this war will lead to the defeat of the evil empire.
Georgian people express their full support for the unity and sovereignty of Ukraine through large-scale demonstrations in all major cities of Georgia. We condemn the militaristic aggression of the Russian Federation against an independent European country. We stand where the civilized world stands, we stand by the brave, admirable warriors - for humanism, education, equality, freedom and a peaceful future.
Solidarity and victory to Ukraine!
On a side note, Russia's 2008 attack on Georgia took place prior to that year's Frankfurt Book Fair. As was then customary, the Georgian Publishers Association's booth in Frankfurt was just across an aisle from the official Russian stand. Tensions ran high and during the fair, the Georgian publishers engaged in their own protest of Russia's attack by tearing the pages out of books they’d taken off the Russian stand, and symbolically “bombing” the Russians with paper airplanes made out of their own books.
This article has been updated with new information.