Comment on strategy and arhcival access #belarus
Franklin J. Swartz <eejhp@...>
I am writing in response to Ms. Margolyes suggestion regarding the
Belarus National Archives. Before proceeding I should declare an
interest in the matter. The East European Jewish Heritage Project
finances many of its charitable activities >from income derived
through genealogical research.
As such it is not unreasonable to assume that any arrangement which,
as Ms. Margolyes proposes, exclusively restricts research access to
the Archive's own staff, will reduce or eliminate that income and the
benefits which flow >from it.
Having said that I feel that there are other considerations which
would redound to the disadvantage of researchers in the West if the
proposal is pursued. First, of course, is the matter of choice.
The Archives already offer a research service. Some people find
it satisfactory others do not. It makes little sense to actively
create a situation in which one must rely exclusively on the
judgment and skills of one group of researchers. In the Archives
at present there are only two people working as researchers. At
least one of them has ambitions to monopolize all research work.
This is reflected in a range of hidden charges which accrete as
work is done. There is no reason to believe that this example
will not be followed by the Archive itself if outsiders are excluded
from conducting research.Additionally while the present goodwill of the archive executive is
not in doubt one cannot be certain about future administrations,
especially given the parlous state of U.S.-Belarusian relations.
To an extent relations between Western researchers and the Archives of
Belarus have been fouled by visitors, who have made promises to provide
and encourage assistance, but have not followed through with concrete
action. There is no doubt much to be gained in the way of goodwill by
providing necessary equipment and facilities to enhance indexing and
archiving but it is wrong to encourage restriction of access. Instead
one must fortify goodwill by implementing promisedintentions with timely
Ms. Margolyes' is correct in assuming that the interests of the National
Archive and the Belarusian nation would be severely compromised by
allowing mass copying and publication of its holdings and this will
never happen. The archive, however, has no objection to providing
indexing and has not done so because of lack of resources.
Ms. Margolyes is also correct in describing their present rates for many
of their services as reasonably priced and, as I said above, some people
find them satisfactory as well. If equipment is to be provided it should
be done solely as an act of goodwill and without strings. One must bear
also in mind that there must be ongoing contact with the Belarusian
government over this issue and intermittent contact without follow
through, as been the case in the past, will serve only to create ill
will and low credibility.
An important matter which has not been touched on is the cost of properly
equipping the archive for the tasks required. Given the complete lack of
equipment: no archival scanners or copiers; no Pentium level computers;
no digital cameras; no budget for media; inadequate staff numbers; a
very moderate guess would be that at least $10,000 is needed to make
this proposal a reality. A donation of this scale would have to be
Negotiated with government to assure that equipment goes to the archive
and that it does not attract taxation under Belarusian law.
To summarize: Any arrangement which results in restriction of access
to the archives will be inimical to the interests of Western researchers.
On a larger scale the encouragement of government control and
monopolization of access to information at any level is an obstacle to
the growth of civil society; an exercise in which no organization should
engage in the Former Soviet Union. The way forward is, in my opinion,
to facilitate open access by providing resources which will enable
indexing and proper archiving of materials. This should be done in a
responsible way through the proper channels.
Franklin J. Swartz
East European Jewish Heritage Project Ltd (USA)
East European Jewish Heritage Project (UK)
Jewish Revival Charitable Mission (Republic of Belarus)
13b Dauman Street
Tel/Fax: +375 17 234 3360
SAVE LIVES AND TRADITIONS: