See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Massive Fire Hits Treasured Moscow Library

Screen capture from video of the fire at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences library. January 30, 2015. YouTube.

Screen capture from video of the fire at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences library. January 30, 2015. YouTube.

A fire at one of Moscow's largest libraries raged for 27 hours this past weekend, destroying over a million books. The blaze began in the evening on Friday, January 30, and wasn't fully extinguished until just before midnight the next day. The site of the fire was the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, known by its acronym “INION.”

According to radio station Echo of Moscow, a large portion of INION's total collection, including rare Slavic texts dating back to the 16th century, is no more.

On Twitter, some joked that a massive “book burning” suits Russia's political climate, which critics sometimes compare to the totalitarian states of the 20th century:

This is SYMBOLIC for a country that says it “reads” more than any other in the world. The Russian Academy of Sciences’ library is ablaze.

There's a library burning in Moscow. Kremlin-fascists decided to start a fire, so they don't have to burn the books in the open. 

Another common joke involved allusions to the war in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are widely suspected of benefiting from military aid and assistance sent by Moscow:

According to preliminary data, the Moscow library caught fire after a Ukrainian artillery strike.

Others on Twitter quip that the destruction of so much reading material—thought by many to represent the antidote to excessive television consumption and the “brainwashing” that accompanies it—might drive even more people to their TV sets:

The Russian Academy of Sciences’ library is on fire in Moscow. 13.5 million books. Well, I guess even more people will just watch television now.

Emergency workers were also active online, sharing photographs from the scene of the disaster, even while firefighters continued to battle the flames:

Inside the INION library today. Photos by emergency workers.

For those nostalgic for the days of Communism, the potential loss of historical archives was painful to consider:

Here's an interesting take on the library fire. #Moscow #library #fire #NoEndInSight:

  • I used the library myself. Just yesterday I was worried about the safety of Soviet state planning [GosPlan] archives. Those were primary documents cataloging the creation of the Soviet economic system: the Lenin period (the electrification plan and the New Economic Policy), and the Stalin period (the first Five-Year Plans, the organization of the economy during WWII and afterwards, economic development under Brezhnev [sic].
  • Academic works and statistical data are not only useful for counter-propaganda during the current liberal mess, but they will also be essential, when the country gets back on the highway of development, where [the state takes from] each according to his ability, [and gives] to each according to his need.
  • I consider the mere fact that this fire happened to be just another attempt by the government to deny society any historical memory about the Soviet period.

Though the fire was during a weekend, many remained glued to social media, likely demonstrating the great social significance for Russians of reading in general and this library in particular.

According to the latest reports, the blaze is believed to have destroyed 14.2 million written works—as much as 20 percent of INION's total collection. That's. Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire, but early evidence suggests faulty electrical wiring in the building.

Our work building bridges across cultures, languages and perspectives is more urgent than ever before.

Learn more about Global Voices »

Donate now

Close