Art news from Russia is not good these days. Many theater and dance companies are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy now that the props of communism have collapsed. Writers are finding out it was easier to be daring in conditions of repression than it is to be innovative now that the official curbs are gone. The new situation is also presenting challenges to the country's musicians. Life without state salaries can be a struggle.
All this pales in comparison with the misfortunes that have falleon Russia's priceless treasuries of art. Many of them are being plundered by organized criminals who then smuggle the loot out of the country and sell it to covetous Western dealers. Antique shops in Helsinki, Finland, are full of ancient maps stolen from Russian collections. Half a dozen emporiums operated in Berlin by emigres are brimming with rare religious icons and sacramental artifacts smuggled out by conduits such as Russian soldiers and Third World diplomats.
This is not Russia's problem alone. Reports from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Bulgaria suggest they, too, are being cleaned out of valuables. "Most everything of value has already left the country," Nowa Europa, a Polish newspaper complained recently. In Czechoslovakia, clergy are now appealing to Western Europeans not to buy religious art from Bohemia because so much of it is stolen.