“The book, which took three years to prepare, came out at the end of January and quickly became a bestseller throughout Russia. The first edition disappeared almost immediately, and since then there have been three more, ”Russian historian and political scientist Alexander Baunov is surprised at the success of his work. In The End of a Regime: How Three European Dictatorships Ended, Baunov talks about the 20th-century dictatorial regimes in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. However, this book was sold out not because of a sudden mass enthusiasm for the history of Southern Europe, the author believes. Interest in the past is an attempt to find answers to the burning questions of the present: how to live under an authoritarian regime, how right-wing dictatorships end, and whether Russia has a chance to become a democracy.
Judging by the stands with bestsellers, readers' interest in anti-war literature has really grown. This breaks the theory of total support for the war in Russian society. For example, after the beginning of the "partial" mobilization of the sale of Nicholas Stargardt's book "The Mobilized Nation. Germany 1939-1945" at the end of September-October (compared to September 7-20) grew five times in Chitai-Gorod and 17 times in LitRes.
Now laying out books on stands with bestsellers in some stores looks like an anti-war protest. In the most "hot" shopping areas, on stands-islets at the entrance, anti-war literature, books about life in the Third Reich and about understanding the issues of guilt and responsibility of the nation, headed by the dictator, are presented.
The title of Leo Tolstoy's collection of articles "I Can't Be Silent" catches the eye like a slogan at the entrance to the Respublika book chain. The book was released in 2023 by Alpina Publisher and included three articles by the writer, including the anti-war Think Back!, written after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.
Nearby on the same stand is The Question of Guilt by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers. Alpina Publisher republished a treatise on the guilt and responsibility of the German people for Nazi crimes in 2022, after the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine. Nearby stands “Someone Hitler. The Politics of Crime” by the German-British writer and journalist Sebastian Hafner. This is the third edition of the book, released in 2022 by the publishing house of Ivan Limbach. "A Certain Hitler" is an analytical commentary on another work by the author, "The Story of a German", which can also be seen on the bestseller stands. Hafner tried to comprehend the methods by which the Nazi ideology was implanted, and how the Germans resisted (or did not resist). “Understanding how and why “someone”, the flesh of the flesh of the crowd, can become a popular politician and lead the crowd to crime, is of particular value in our time, which gives unlimited technological possibilities for turning personal psychosis into mass one,” the annotation to the publication says. .
In the Moskva store on Tverskaya, right at the entrance, there is Baunov's book “The End of the Regime. How three European dictatorships ended. And “The End of the Regime” was exhibited in a particularly creative way at the international book fair of intellectual literature Non/FictioN, next to the collection catalog “Moskvich’s Dream”.
In some stores of the Chitay-Gorod network, on stands with bestsellers, you can see books about the Second World War and life after it through the eyes of the Germans: Monica Black's Land Possessed by Demons and Nicholas Stargard's A Nation Mobilized. “Notes from the Third Reich. Life on the eve of the war through the eyes of ordinary tourists ” by Julia Boyd. These are previously unpublished diaries and letters from travelers who visited Germany between the First and Second World Wars.
One of the stores of the Chitay-Gorod chain on the bestseller stand placed the books "The Gulag: The Web of the Great Terror" by the American-British writer Anne Applebaum and "Authoritarian Russia: Escape from Freedom, or Why Democracy Cannot Take root" by political scientist Vladimir Gelman. In almost all major bookstores in Moscow, you can find the work "In the Garden of Monsters: Love and Terror in Hitler's Berlin" by Eric Larson.
In bookstores with a position more loyal to the authorities, such as the Moscow House of Books, Biblio-Globus, and Young Guard, stands with bestsellers are neutrally decorated, mainly with books about personal growth, psychology, and fiction.
Orwell snapped up
“They take 1984 a lot, apparently they are afraid that the book will be banned,” this is how a consultant at the Chitay-Gorod bookstore explains the increase in demand for the most famous work of George Orwell. Once banned in the USSR, the dystopian novel 1984 about dictatorship and propaganda in a totalitarian society is wildly popular in Russia. Almost all major publishing houses republish the writer's books, mainly 1984. Many bookstores display anti-war writings on their bestseller stands, while others set up entire islands exclusively for Orwell's titles. The novel is available in paperback or hardcover, in large or small format. There are also comics based on 1984.
“Books are for the topic of the day! We are moving in the same direction, with leaps and bounds,” sighs the consultant of the Moscow House of Books. - Orwell is taken a lot. This is our best selling writer. A separate stand with him has been standing for three years already. But now they are reading even more.”
Interest in Orwell was recorded even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He was in the top ten best-selling writers. But in March 2022, sales increased by 5-6 times, the AST publishing house noted . Interestingly, there was a similar surge of interest in the writer in the United States after Donald Trump came to power in 2017. Then sales of other dystopias about authoritarian regimes also increased - Sinclair Lewis's novel It's Impossible Here, which was written during the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe in 1935 (46th place), and Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New world".
In many stores of the Chitay-Gorod chain, the novel can be found in the hottest spot - an impressive stand with dystopias is located opposite the entrance. You can buy not only the book, but also the board game "1984". Buyers are invited to "try on the role of a dictator or become one of the opposition."
“Game experience for Big Brother is fundamentally different from the opposition - you have to try hard, issuing new directives and managing your subordinates. The opposition will have to break cameras, set up and take away staves, move around different urban areas and, of course, lower the authority of Big Brother, ”reads the description of the game.
Unlike Belarus, the novel "1984" is still not banned in Russia - at the same time, after the invasion of Ukraine, Russians were repeatedly detained for pickets with quotes from the writer's books. At least three such cases are known, in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Moscow.
Book under the sign Z
However, not all bookstores in Moscow are in solidarity in the choice of works for shelves with bestsellers. So, in the house of the book "Young Guard" in "hot spots" you can see "islands of patriotism" with ideologically charged literature. The central place of one of these stands is occupied by books about the "true Russian history" of Vladimir Medinsky, aide to the President of the Russian Federation. This is a whole series of works that refute the myths about the Russian people: about technological backwardness, laziness, drunkenness and other unpleasant stereotypes.
At the same stand, the book “SVO. Clausewitz and Emptiness” by Mikhail Golovlev, FSB colonel in reserve and Minister of State Security of the “DPR”. The work, billed as the first serious analysis of the successes and failures of the invasion of Ukraine, defends the very idea of this invasion: "Russia ... made a historic claim for a world order more just than Western hegemony," the abstract says.
The section “History of Russia” deserves special attention, although it would be more correct to call it “History of Russia through the prism of Putin's propaganda”. Here, opposite the calendar with Putin, there are works by modern Russian propagandists: “The Radical Doctrine of Novorossiya” by Leonid Ivashov, “Novorossiya. Return: A Brief History from Catherine II to Putin” by Vladimir Myasnikov, “Denazification of Ukraine” by Armen Gasparyan and many others.
History books occupy nine bookcases and several islands in the Young Guard. This is the largest section in the book house. In the rack with the works of Lenin and Stalin, books about the history of the NKVD and party functionaries, Shoigu's work and Putin's "writings" coexist. Nearby is a whole series of books about "enemies of the people" called "Europe against Russia": "NATO and Russia", "Russia and Poland", "Russia and Finland". It is easy to see the state order for "patriotic non-fiction" - these and other propaganda publications were released after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. However, fans of such literature are in for a surprise: next to the book about the "hybrid war" are Mikhail Fishman's publication "Successor" about Boris Nemtsov and the bestseller "Mobilized Nation" by Stargard.
Propagandists Boris Satanovsky, Leonid Ivashov and Zakhar Prilepin held presentations of their books at the Young Guard. In the summer of 2022, the store especially distinguished itself by removing Boris Akunin's books from sale. The writer was not declared a “foreign agent”, but openly opposed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and before that, the annexation of Crimea. As a sign of protest, the Zakharov publishing house withdrew all its books from the Young Guard: “So our books will never be in the Young Guard on Polyanka. Even if the sun comes up. The doctor said: “To the morgue”, then to the morgue,” the publisher said in a message published on the VKontakte social network.
Childhood in boots
A separate and most prominent place in the "Young Guard" is occupied by a department with children's military literature. The section with books about the war for children is the first thing you can see when you go into the bookstore. By May 9, a special island with children's military literature was also organized in the store.
In the first row of the island is the series "Military Childhood" published by the publishing house "Children's Literature". Basically, these are books about the Great Patriotic War, written in Soviet times and republished in recent years. But there are works written recently, for example, Olga Butler's story "The Last Puss in Boots" about the events in besieged Leningrad.
However, children are offered to be proud not only of military merits, but also of the conquest of space. True, even the name of the stand-island “Thank you, Yura, our space!” says that all the space conquests of Russia are long in the past.
Foreign agent foreign agent strife
“We haven’t had Zygar for a long time. Filmed after the summer, when they played a wedding <we are talking about the wedding of Zygar and actor Jean-Michel Shcherbakov in 2022 - The Insider> . Well, when he was added to the list of foreign agents, it coincided in time there, ”explains the consultant for Biblio-Globus, one of the largest bookstores in Moscow. There are no books by Dmitry Glukhovsky on sale either. The author, best known for a series of post-apocalyptic subway novels, has disappeared from shelves after being labeled a "foreign agent". The same thing happened with the books of historian Tamara Eidelman and writer Dmitry Bykov. It was not possible to find them either in the Moscow House of Books on the Arbat, or in the Young Guard on Polyanka.
Previously, these authors were featured in many bookstores in shop windows and the most prominent booths at the entrance. Everything changed in December 2022: in Russia, the law on “foreign agents” was tightened, which, among other things, prohibits carrying out educational and educational activities in relation to minors and producing information products for them, which include books. Publications are now required to be labeled to "protect children from their pernicious influence". However, the text of the law does not say exactly how to do this. Most stores began to wrap books in transparent film and set an age limit of 18+.
The decision to withdraw books from sale is a private initiative of the stores. The law does not require to get rid of the literature of "foreign agents" writers. Apparently, Biblio-Globus, Moscow House of Books, and Molodaya Gvardiya demonstrate a position loyal to the authorities or simply play it safe by removing “foreign agents” from book sales. And they do it to the detriment of business: Zygar's "All the Kremlin's Army" and Eidelman's "How Propaganda Works" became sales leaders in 2022.
Meanwhile, in the Moscow bookstore on Tverskaya, things are different: the books of writers-“foreign agents” lie on conspicuous stands in the center of the hall, however, on the lower and middle shelves. In the bookstore, located about a kilometer from the Kremlin, you can find books by Mikhail Zygar and Tamara Eidelman, Mikhail Fishman's "Successor" and "The First Scientific History of the War of 1812" by journalist and historian Yevgeny Ponasenkov. And in the department of literature on cinema there are publications by producer Alexander Rodnyansky and film critic Anton Dolin. The books are sealed in transparent film and marked with a sticker about "foreign agency".
In the online bookstore "Chitay-gorod" works by Zygar, Glukhovsky and Bykov are sold without a sticker about "foreign agency", but in a transparent film. The books of these authors were removed from the showcases and central stands. Now the most prominent points are fiction and non-fiction on a non-political topic, literature about psychology and personal growth. Editions of "foreign agents" have to literally seek out - they are placed in hard-to-reach places, too high or too low, and covered with other books.
The publications of these authors can also be found on the Respublika network, also with an indication of the status of “foreign agents”. In December 2022, a video circulated on social networks, presumably filmed in one of the stores of this network, in which the books of "foreign agents" were packed in thick opaque paper. However, later "Republic", apparently, abandoned this practice, retaining only the "foreign agency" sticker. Employees of several Moscow stores told The Insider that they "go to bookstores with checks."
Some shops hid books by Lyudmila Ulitskaya. The writer was not declared a “foreign agent”, but information appeared on the network that she was included in unofficial lists of “undesirable” authors whose works should be removed by stores. At the same time, the publications of the writer are presented in Chitai-Gorod and Respublika, sometimes you can find her in the window.
After the authors are declared "foreign agents", the interest of readers in the works only grows. The fear of a complete ban on these books is causing a kind of hype, consultants from one of the online bookstores confirm in a conversation with The Insider. “A lot of people ask ‘The Empire must die’ and Zygar in general. People became more interested in "foreign agents" and LGBT literature. Dmitry Glukhovsky is also often asked. Everyone understands that at any moment these books can be banned, ”says a consultant for one of the bookstores. An employee of the Moskva store said that Eidelman's books are in great demand, and her work How Propaganda Works has long been sold out.
Interestingly, some "foreign" writers turned out to be less "undesirable". So, in one of the bookstores with the most zealous attitude to the implementation of the law, on a separate stand-island, a book by the former director of the Levada Center, Lev Gudkov, was unexpectedly found (in 2016, the organization was recognized as a “foreign agent”, Gudkov himself does not have such a status). In another "cautious" store, a book by Mikhail Fishman about Boris Nemtsov is on display - also without marking and even without a film and an indication of 18+.
“They did not explain or refer to any law! They just told me to put the book away. Probably because the main character there is a hermaphrodite girl, ”the sellers of the Ripol publishing house were indignant at the Non / FictioN 2023 book fair. It was held in the capital for the 25th time - but in such a nervous atmosphere, perhaps for the first time. The stands were bypassed by some "checkers". They demanded the removal of the Pulitzer Prize-winning world bestseller The Middle Sex by Geoffrey Eugenides. The same fate befell several more books, including Fox Fords by Anna Starobinets. The writer is not recognized as a "foreign agent", but is known for her oppositional views.
The situation outraged the consultants, but they did not dare to argue with the "verifiers". According to The Insider's interlocutors, the understanding of what is possible and what is not, the book and publishing houses lost after the tightening of laws on "foreign agents" and the ban on "LGBT propaganda." Russian and translated literature containing references to same-sex relationships has been the most censored. The turning point month was December, when Putin signed a law banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations. Popular works with LGBT themes have disappeared from the shelves and from online stores.
“Completely removed “Summer in a Pioneer Tie”. It's not even on the Popcorn Books website. My friend looked at Avito, the book cost about 20 thousand rubles, and they quickly bought it, ”says a consultant at the Chitay-Gorod store.
A novel by Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova about the relationship between a pioneer and a camp leader appeared online in 2019, and a paper version was published by Popcorn Books in 2021. The book was the second in the ranking of the best-selling books for 2022 with sales of almost 50 million rubles. The circulation was confiscated at the peak of popularity - in December, when Putin signed a law banning "LGBT propaganda". In early February 2023, women writers were listed as “foreign agents”, they began to receive threats, and Popcorn Books received its first administrative case under the law banning “LGBT propaganda”. The persecution of the authors was also facilitated by numerous appeals from Zakhar Prilepin, Dmitry Mikhalkov and State Duma deputies.
Some LGBT-themed works from LikeBook, which publish books in the Young Adult genre, have also disappeared from the shelves. For example, Max Falk's debut novel Shattered was missing. Back in October 2022, the publishing house released Falk's book, blacking out the descriptions of the intimate relationship between the two young people (about 3% of the text). However, the novel was still withdrawn.
The Ridero publishing house asked the writer Masha Pushkina to be removed from the book “Bipolar. No Masks” fragment about political prisoner Sasha Skochilenko, who was detained for “fake news about the Russian army”. The publisher asked to remove some of Sasha's quotes: “Now I live with my girlfriend Sonya. <…> Homophobia finished us off <…> I also dream of marrying Sonya and spending my honeymoon in Amsterdam.” Ridero explained that there is no clear understanding of which books publication would be considered a violation of the law banning “LGBT propaganda”.
The publishing house asked the Kazakhstani writer Margo Ervand to edit the book. A neural network that checks literature for LGBT content has found a secondary gay character in her work “The Temptations of Loneliness”. The writer was offered to "either cut out the line of the hero, or make him 'correct' in terms of Russian laws." Ervand refused and withdrew her book from sale.
Stores are often plagued by "vigilant citizens" problems. They demand to remove from the shelves books that, in their opinion, promote LGBT people. Activists talk about their exploits online: “They asked the seller why a book with such a mark 18+ and with LGBT propaganda is in the most visible place, accessible, including to very young, 12-year-old people?” the bookstore visitor boasted of her vigilance. And although the seller explained that the display was made by agreement between the publisher and the store management, the woman accused the store of "gay propaganda."
Another notable loss is books about Russian rock. The Moscow House of Books does not contain biographies of musicians who were "foreign agents" or simply those who opposed the Russian invasion. Disappeared books about DDT, "Time Machine" and Alla Pugacheva. There is nothing about Aquarium or Boris Grebenshchikov. Almost the entire stand is reserved for foreign musicians, from Mozart and The Rolling Stones to Eminem and Billy Eilish, as well as Rammstein, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson - and almost a whole shelf under The Beatles.
The situation is the same in the Young Guard. The book about Alla Pugacheva was found on the lowest shelf, but the speech in the work called "Alla Pugacheva and her 50 men" is not entirely about creativity. It is symbolic that the book is next to the publication "Defectors and actors" by Valery Golovsky. The book about Zemfira was found in the bookshop in Polyanka, but on the penultimate shelf from the bottom.