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May 19, 2006

Michigan State University returning papers of late dissident Russian philosopher Ivan Il’in

EAST LANSING, Mich. —  A collection of personal papers and manuscripts that represent the life work of Ivan Il'in (IL’IN, pron. eel-yin), one of the finest Russian philosophers of the 20th century, will be making its way back home after a 40-year stay at Michigan State University.

A delegation will arrive in East Lansing on Sunday, May 21, including a personal representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Il'in Collection will be formally returned to the people of Russia in a ceremony at 1:15 p.m. May 22, in the MSU Main Library. The collection will be packed for shipment and dispatched by private carrier to an Aeroflot flight from New York City on May 26.

The Il'in Collection will be housed in an archive especially prepared for it at the Moscow State University Library.

After the deaths of the staunchly anti-Communist Il'in in 1954 and his wife, Natalia, in 1963, the papers were in danger of destruction because he was still considered an enemy of the Soviet Union. They had no children and no relatives outside Russia.

Nikolai Poltoratzky, a professor of Russian language at MSU and long-time scholar of Il'in's work, arranged for the collection to be shipped from Zurich Il’in's eventual home after his expulsion from Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution to MSU’s special collections, where they were to be safely housed until they could be returned to a free Russia. In 1965, the papers were deposited with the libraries' special collections division on loan from Poltoratzky, their guardian.

After Poltoratzky's death in 1990, guardianship of the collection passed to his widow, Tamara. In late 2005, the Rossiiskii Fond Kultury, a section of the Russian Ministry of Culture, formally requested repatriation of the collection. The Fond Kultury’s mission is to gather the elements of Russian cultural heritage that were scattered abroad by the Bolshevik Revolution.

"In my judgment, the appropriate time for their repatriation has arrived,” Tamara Poltoratzky wrote to the libraries in December. "...I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Michigan State University...for the care with which the library has guarded this precious cache of papers over the years. The return of the Il'in archive to Russia will be an act of true and greatly appreciated friendship toward a country that is trying to recover some of the cultural treasures that were dispersed during the long night of Soviet dominance, yet preserved from loss with the help of caring institutions like yours."

Ivan Il’in background

Ivan Aleksandrovich Il'in (also "Ilyin" or "Iljin") was born in Moscow in 1883. He studied philosophy of law at the University of Moscow and, after a period of travel, returned to Moscow to teach philosophy and to complete a massive dissertation on Hegel. Published in two volumes in 1918, his treatise is still regarded as one of the seminal works on that influential German thinker.

Il'in was outspoken in his criticism of the Bolsheviks after the Revolution of 1917. He was arrested several times; there is an unverified story that after one arrest, he was released upon the personal order of Lenin himself, who was said to have been greatly impressed by Il'in's work on Hegel. Nevertheless, Il'in was expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922, settled in Berlin and took a teaching post.

After the National Socialists came to power in 1933, Il'in found himself in opposition to a government again. His refusal to incorporate Nazi propaganda into his courses resulted in the loss of his teaching position. In 1938, he fled to Switzerland to escape further repression.

Since Il'in was not a Swiss citizen, he was forbidden from publishing works with political content. He circumvented this restriction by using a pseudonym for his pieces in the Russian émigré press while writing under his own name on cultural and religious topics.

The Ivan Il'in Papers

The Ivan Il'in Papers consist of 88 archival boxes containing manuscripts, letters, typescripts, brochures, offprints, newspaper clippings, photographs, original artworks, memorabilia and microfilm copies of a portion of the material. The collection also includes 12 cartons of books from Il'in's personal library and two cartons of manuscripts, typescripts and letters that have not been organized by an archivist.

After the death of Natalia Il'in, the papers were stored in Zurich, apparently on the grounds of a hospital. Two years later came the transfer to MSU through Poltoratzky’s efforts, and the archive has been at the MSU Libraries ever since.

Poltoratzky continued his research on Il'in until his death, and the collection has been used by other scholars of Il'in's work as well. One of these is Alexis Klimoff, a professor of Russian studies at Vassar College and an MSU alumnus whose father was a correspondent of Il’in’s. Klimoff has spent several summers in East Lansing organizing and documenting the contents of the Il'in collection, and has served as the liaison between the MSU Libraries, Tamara Poltoratzky and Rossiiskii Fond Kultury.

“Il’in was an ideologue, very anti-Communist,” says Klimoff. “He wrote prolifically in the émigré press while living in Germany and Switzerland. He was very astute in the large sense of what was happening in the world. Il’in foresaw very accurately that the communist system would collapse, and when it did there would be a tremendous amount of chaos, which is exactly what happened.”

Klimoff estimates that during his trips to the MSU, he made 3,000 to 4,000 photocopies from the collection that were sent with friends along to researchers in Moscow largely due to the prohibitive cost of postage that were then published. Klimoff estimates that at least 10 of the 26 volumes of Il’in’s collected works that have been published to date are based on materials from the MSU collection.

In September 2005, the remains of the Il'ins were carried from Zurich to Moscow for ceremonies recognizing their place in Russian history. They were reburied in the cemetery of the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow.


Document signing transferring the Ivan Il’in Collection from MSU back to Russia


Delegation will include representatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rossiiskii Fond Kultury, a section of the Russian Ministry of Culture; and Alexis Klimoff, Vassar College Russian studies professor


1:15 p.m. Monday, May 22


Signing: Michigan State University Main Library, directors office (ground floor, to the right upon entering through the front doors).
Il’in Collection:  located in special collections of the library, located on the basement level, available to the media prior to packing.


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