A Stanford University institutes's attempt to microfilm the archives of the Soviet Union Communist party and certain branches of the Soviet government is threatened by a change in Russian law.
During the past four years, more than 6,000 reels of microfilm, containing 7,763,000 images of once-top-secret documents have been produced in co- operation with Russia's state archival service Rosarkhiv, and marketed worldwide through the distributors Chadwyck-Healey Ltd. But this represents only a third of the archives.
Now a new law on international exchange of information limits the export of certain types of information, including "state secret or confidential information", "all-Russian national property" and "archives".
Although "specimens" of such material can be exported under special permission of the Russian government, which has to be given separately for each case, it is by no means clear how the law will be interpreted in the case of whole archives which were, until four years ago, top secret, and which are considered to be Russia's "national property".
In mid-January Rosarkhiv notified Stanford's Hoover Institute of War, Revolution and Peace of its intention to terminate the existing agreement within six months.
Charles Palm, deputy director of the Institute, flew to Moscow for talks with Rosarkhiv. "It is a very unfortunate situation," he commented after his return to California. "We shall have to go through the process of renegotiation, and it could change the character of the project. The clear intention of the law is to limit the amount of information," he said.
Mr Palm believes that the principal motivation behind the new law is a general movement away from reform and a return to the view that "openness is a bad thing". Rosarkhiv, itself, he says, wants to continue the project.
However, the leading Russian daily Izvestiya alleges that there is opposition to the project within the collegium of Rosarkhiv itself, amounting to a virtual "mutiny" against the director, Rudolf Pikhoy.
Commentators have also publicly described the Hoover project as the "sale" of "Russia's historical memory", even though none of the original documents will leave Russia.
Russian academics believe microfilming the archives puts them at the disposal of any western scholar whose university can afford to buy them. But although Hoover is giving two copies of the microfilms to Rosarkhiv, the organisation apparently has no plans to distribute them within Russia.
Since microfilms retail at Pounds 55-95 a reel, very few universities are likely to purchase more than a relatively small fraction of the archive.
But to Russian historians, who will still have to request funding for a visit to Moscow if they want to consult these archives, the Hoover project seems to be giving their western colleagues a chance to scoop them on research relating to the hidden Communist past.