Not even suggestions by Soviet officials themselves on the obvious way for the third international book fair to avoid scandal helped in the end. Six books were still confiscated at the opening Sept. 2, meaning that the book fair hailed by its Soviet organizers as an agent of peace and progress was once again tainted.
Never mind that in 1979, the last fair, over 40 titles were confiscated from Americans alone.The damage was done.
"You can always depend on them to shoot themselves in the foot," said one skeptical Western observer.
In addition, the official news agency Tass announced on the same day that Soviet author and dissident Anatoly Marchenko was on trial in the town of Vladimir for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda," Charges that could earn him seven years in a labor camp and five years' internal exile.
Marchenko is listed by the American Association of Publishers among those to be honored at an "alternative" Moscow book fair reception in New York, Sept. 14. The APP declined the invitation to this year's event in Moscow.
Marchenko, who wrote "My Testimony" about his time in prison camps, was invited to the Moscow reception after the 1979 fair.
Soviet authorities took two books from the exhibit of the Association of Jewish Book Publishers on Sept. 2, one from the Israeli Pavilion, and three from the Moscow Book Fair exhibit, a New York State group representing 103 publishers.
Defying logic, the censors took the children's version of former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban's "My People: A History of the Jews" but left the original version. They also confiscated "The American-Jewish YEarbook: 1981." Both included passages incorrectly depicting the Soviet attitude toward Jews, the Soviet officials said.
They seized Shmuel Ettinger's "History of the Jewish People" because of its references to former dictator Joseph Stalin's designs against what he saw as a "doctors' plot," said Israel Export Institute representative Baruch Pintow.
From the American joint exhibit they confiscated Edward Ericson's "Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision," "A Decade of Foreign Policy," and "The Promise of Eurocommunism," by Carl Marzani.
A representative of the Jewish book publishers said the Soviets had forbidden the distribution of 10,000 records of Jewish holiday songs. The authorities said the records, valuable on the Soviet black market, could cause havoc at the fair, which they did not want to degenerate into a "commercial bazaar."
But both the Americans and the Israelis said in general the Soviets had been "very correct, very cooperative" in their dealings with the representatives from over 80 countries who brought 150,000 titles to the book fair.
Soviets used to dealing with foreigners had argued that the best way to deal with censorship charges would be to avoid censorship this time, said a Westerner following the fair. Besides, those US firms most likely to have brought material objectionable to the Soviets had decided to stay away this year, led by the AAP.
The predictable uproar over the seized titles took attention away from what participants said was the real problem: theft of books by Soviets eager either for Western literature or to turn a profit in a resale to the black market.
The Times-Mirror company had 10 titles stolen Tuesday night while the hall was officially locked up. "I don't mind if people steal books because they love them, but I don't like it if it is for commercial reasons," a spokesman said. "The Moscow fairs are the worst we go to anywhere for theft."
Most Western book dealers view the stealing with a dismay heavily tempered with sympathy for those unable to obtain the Western books on display any other way.
Soviet bookstores rarely carry foreign books, and even libraries that do can lend most foreign-language books out only to authorized persons.
The fair has opened to the public now and crowds seem to be substantial but not overwhelming. The thieving goes on as before, but the Soviets have beefed up security forces, checking Russians (but not foreigners) as they leave the pavillions and putting more police in and around the stands.