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Speech Delivered at the 135th Anniversary Celebration – 10/7/98

Presentation Given by Nicolai S. Tchertkoff
On The Occasion of the 135th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Tchertkoff Library
Moscow – October 7, 1998

Honorable Dr. Afanasiev!
Ladies & Gentlemen!
My Dear Compatriots!

Today is a memorable day for Moscow and Russia despite the serious social and economic crisis in the country.

We are gathering here to celebrate the 135th anniversary of the foundation of the Tchertkoff Library, the First Public Library of Moscow and the 60th anniversary of the State Public Historical Library which was established on the basis of the 50,000 volumes of the Tchertkoff book collection.

Not being a specialist on libraries, I will not talk about the traditions of Russian book collecting, but rather about those people in my family who, for over a period of two hundred years were building Russia.

In the preamble to the Constitution of the Russian Federation one can read: “…we honor the memory of our ancestors, who have passed on to us love and respect to our homeland and fate in good and justice…”, and in article 44 we read: “…everyone must protect his heritage and have access to historical monuments…”

Today I want to honor my ancestors who founded the First Public Library of Moscow 135 years ago and by doing so, I want to contribute to the implementation of the justice the Constitution is talking about and specifically to make sure that everyone have free access to historical monuments.

As of today, I personally don’t have that access which is stipulated in the Constitution. The Tchertkoff Mansion which was the site of the First Public Library of Moscow and which is an historical monument “under the protection of the government” is camouflaged and off limits to me. The library is my spiritual heritage and it is my constitutional moral obligation to intercede on it’s behalf and to make sure that books will be preserved and the library reopened to the public according to the will of my ancestor, Grigorii A. Tchertkoff.

Less than two years ago, on December 20th, 1996, here in Moscow, a celebration was held commemorating the 125th anniversary of the donation by my ancestor, Grigorii Tchertkoff, of his private library to the city of Moscow.

Back then, in relation with the celebration, I was invited by the Speaker of the Russian Parliament of the Russian Federation, Mr. Seleznyov to address the Deputies during the plenary session.

The main theme of my address then was to draw the attention of the legislature of the Russian Federation to the current state of the culture in the country. One of the main ideas I addressed to the Deputies was the impossibility of the restoration of the economic infrastructure and the prosperity of the country without it’s moral and cultural restoration. The attempt itself to rebuild economic potential of Russia, based on the world standard, without sufficient cultural standards is absurd. Currently the “new Russians” are feverishly buying out real estate in Cyprus, Spain, on the French Riviera, and, yes, in my home country, the United States of America. Here is the practical result: Russia is starving economically and culturally.

Russia, a country that I was taught to love by my fathers and grandfathers, is again in a deep crisis. Not only historical, cultural and ethical values are perishing, the Russian people themselves, the bearers and keepers of these values, are perishing as well. But why? Because elementary rules were not inculcated in those government officials and those entrusted with key financial positions in the country. What are those rules? Don’t steal, don’t spit in the well. You want to know the future? Glance more often into the past.

I told the Deputies about the best traditions of Russian patronage of the past. Among the patrons were representatives of the richest industrial and trading dynasties of Russia. Among those people were brilliant, original personalities who not only donated huge sums of money to culture, but also their energy and soul.

My personal project which is to restore the first public library of Moscow, the Tchertkoff Library, had to address the most important and urgent issue of Russian society today: the renaissance of the cultural and traditional values of the country. The task was simple and easily solvable:

to restore the Mansion on Myasnitskaya Street;

to restore the book collection of the Tchertkoff Library;

to return the books to their original location;

to reopen the Library according to the will of Grigorii Tchertkoff to the general public, researchers, students, and all those who wish to learn more about their own country.
The Tchertkoff Library is unique in that it collected books especially in dealing with Russia. This is why it was called: “ROSSIKA”.

The Deputies of the State Duma responded to my appeal. They sent a petition to President Yeltsin and among other things, they wrote that “…the Government of the Russian Federation has to create favorable conditions in order to attract foreign investment to support Russian culture, the historical and architectural monuments in Russia, and by doing so, to give support to the noble initiative of Nicolai S. Tchertkoff…”.

My address to the Russian Parliament was broadcast worldwide by CNN, and related by major newspapers. The reaction of the West was immediate. The project attracted the attention of big firms. One of them proposed to finance the restoration of the library.

The West is indeed interested in investing in Russia, not only in a business sense, but also in its culture, education and healthcare. The West would like to see in Russia an honest and hardworking partner, not a senseless “carpetbagger”.

Alas, the project was not destined to be implemented as of today. Serious political forces in Moscow suddenly saw their interests infringed upon. Neither the Moscow City Government, nor President Yeltsin reacted as they should have as real political leaders concerned about the people. In conclusion the project to restore the Tchertkoff Library proved to be premature for them. In Russia, there is no political will, and the necessary conditions to attract foreign investment, spelled out by the Deputies to the President, are not yet created.

A vicious circle is taking shape in Russia. The economy can’t recover due to the lack of culture from the political and financial leadership of the country, and the culture can’t be restored due to the lack of understanding from the very same leadership of the national interest of the country.

We can repeat a hundred thousand times over that Russia will rise from its knees, will resurrect, that its economic reforms will in the end bear fruit. The result will be the same: we can’t have a powerful modern State if books are rotting and burning.

The economy is not only money and technology it is, first of all, people, their professionalism, their motivation, their conscience.

The well being of any nation in our contemporary world is not based on a thievish economy but on a civilized business relationship built on trust, decency and honesty. We learn these ethical values for years in schools, colleges, universities and in everyday life.

The foundation of any educational institution as we have in the West and, as we would like to believe in Russia as well, are its libraries. The foundation of any civilization are its libraries. The absence of libraries results in the barbarity of the people. Obviously it was this thought that motivated my ancestor Alexander Tchertkoff to found his library 135 years ago.

During these years of continual search of my family roots, the study of contributions they made in the history of Russia, this country revealed itself to me, despite the humiliation in which it found itself, as a hardworking country, which had a great culture and a tight mutual bond between its economy, its moral foundation and its spirituality. One would think that the only true path to the renaissance of Russia would be the restoration of this bond and not the transfer of billions of borrowed dollars to Western bank accounts.