MOSCOW – Moscow’s Red Square came alive on Saturday with the opening of its annual book fair which this year unfolded under the coronavirus lockdown amid strict security measures.
The massive event has drawn criticism from many who consider it too soon to host such a large gathering before confinement measures are lifted on June 14.
Moscow continues to be the main COVID-19 hotspot in Russia with just under 2,000 daily infections, the lowest recorded in recent weeks, according to official data.
The Red Square Book Festival usually gathers hundreds of thousands of people, but this year the number of exhibitors and attendees will be stemmed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some independent publishers refused to attend the festival, despite the difficulties the sector is facing, on the grounds it was irresponsible.
“We have participated in all previous editions but this time we decided right away that we were not going to,” Ad Marginem’s director Alexandr Ivanov, who has been trading books for almost three decades, told EFE.
According to Ivanov, the fair will not help the book industry much.
It is “in ruins” and resembles “a patient after a heart attack,” he added.
“The recovery of the sector will take at least two years, but not everyone will be able to survive,” he warned.
Children’s publishing house Albus Corvus did not attend this year’s fair either.
“Celebrating the festival when the epidemic situation in Moscow is not only far from ideal but minimally safe seems a strange and unweighted decision to us,” the editorial team told EFE.
The fair will run from June 6-8 with only 6,000 visitors a day. Temperatures will be taken and the use of gloves and masks is compulsory. People over 65 or under 7 have been banned from attending.
Russia’s largest publisher Eksmo-Ast told EFE they had agreed to take part after “weighing all the risks” and examining the security measures organizers had guaranteed.
“The fair is a very important platform for the book industry to present their new material in paper format. Among our offerings, there are more than 70 titles and we have a lot to offer readers of different ages,” the publisher said.
Amid the wave of criticism, the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media (Rospechat) said bookstores in Moscow had already opened on June 1 and that the open-air festival complied with all hygiene and security regulations.
Rospechat deputy director Vladimir Grigoriev insisted on the need to support the book sector, given that in the months of March and April alone publishers suffered losses exceeding $29 million.