The Horror Story of Publishing Children’s Books in Russia

Masha Gessen:

I WALK IN ON a minor crisis at Samokat, a children’s publishing house in Moscow. The commercial director, Gleb Kochnev, is telling the editor-in-chief, Irina Balakhonova, that there is a problem in a book they have just published.

The book is called Say Hi to Me, it is a primer on refugees for elementary school children, and it contains a map of Russia and its neighbors. One of the countries on the map is Georgia, which Russia invaded in 2008, biting off two small regions. The regions have since declared independence, which is recognized only by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the island microstates of Nauru, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu (though Tuvalu later reneged and Vanuatu seems to have had second thoughts). The map in the book shows the regions as being part of Georgia — the way most of the world sees it. But federal law dictates that any published map must reflect Russia’s official view of the world, which is that these tiny regions are independent. It is not clear what the penalty for violating this provision may be, but it’s clear that it spells trouble.