By Eugene Gerden
A recent Russian government tender for new textbooks — one that has reduced the number to be acquired by the government by a factor of 2.5 — has led to controversy, as Prosveshcheniye (which translates as “Enlightenment”), a company whose chairman Arkady Rottenberg with close ties to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, has won out over other competitors. Rottenberg is a Judo sparring partner and former schoolmate, reports The New York Times, and has made billions as a construction contractor.
The contract is to supply titles for the Federal List of School Books serves some 43,000 schools with 14 million students, and is estimated to be valued at more than US$500 million. Prosveshcheniye produces some 2,000 textbooks in all disciplines, including foreign languages manuals, dictionaries, maps, visual aids, popular scientific books, educational games, e-learning materials.
The Times reports that the tender was directly influenced by Putin. Some Russian media reports indicate leading local publishing houses including Fedorov and Titul, whose books were not included in the list for state supplies, are planning to file a lawsuit in the Moscow Arbitration Court against the Ministry of Education. They are accusing the Ministry of discrimination, believing that the conditions the disqualified some of the potential bidders were unfounded.
The fallout from the tender has been dramatic, with Ballas and Mnemosyna publishing houses already announcing plans for the reduction of their workforce, due to loss of important state contracts.
Representatives of Arkady Rottenberg deny the allegations of malfeasance. Nevertheless, the questions surrounding the relationship has resulted in the suspension of the execution of the contract recently signed between Prosveshcheniye and Microsoft to jointly development a laptop to be used for the education market and for the application of ebooks in the learning environment.