Books suppressed and films banned under Russia’s ‘LGBT propaganda’ law

Amid reports of book bans in Russia following the country’s December anti-LGBT lawAlina Kuznetsova, a marketer from Yekaterinburg, couldn’t help but reminisce about family stories about her grandmother, who worked in a library in the Soviet Union.

Alina’s grandmother regularly saved books banned by the Soviet authorities from being thrown away – asking her son to bring them home on a sled at night.

In the three months since Russia’s controversial decision was adopted on December 13. 5 law banning LGBT ‘propaganda’, history was beginning to repeat itself, said Kuznetsova, 33.

By banning any public display of LGBT behavior, the bill chilled the Russian arts establishment, with booksfilms and works of art being withdrawn from public circulation for fear of fines and even criminal prosecution.

In the Siberian city of Khabarovsk, activists from the nationalist group Union of Fathers tore up several novels on LGBT topics and fed in a recycling machine days before the law came into effect last year.

While this incident was – so far – the only known public destruction of LGBT-themed books, activists told the Moscow Times that censorship is happening quickly behind the scenes.

According to Vladimir Kosarevsky, the former director of Moscow’s Anna Akhmatova Library, authorities send orders to remove books from the library – but usually via phone calls or lists that do not bear a seal or signature.

This is how “it will be possible to blame the librarians themselves and say it was their own initiative” if the bans are made public, he said.

Arthur Novosiltsev / Moscow News Agency

Arthur Novosiltsev / Moscow News Agency

Last year, Kosarevsky leak a list of books he said libraries have been ordered to remove.

Titles included novels by writers Haruki Murakami, Stephen Fry, Hanya Yanagihara, Michael Cunningham, Eduard Limonov, Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote and Jean Genet.

Kosarevsky criticized the list for its seemingly random nature.

“It was as if officials had rushed to blindly enforce the new law to curry favor,” he said.

Examples of self-censorship inspired by the new law have also crept into the Russian film and TV industry, with commercial companies taking steps to erase LGBT content.

The business daily of Vedomosti reported In January, media watchdog Roskomnadzor included Oscar-winning drama ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and romance drama ‘Call Me By Your Name’ in a list of material featuring ‘LGBT content’ – meaning most commercial streaming services in Russia have since removed them from their platforms.

Popular streaming service Amediateka, known for its longstanding partnership with HBO, has reportedly removed and edited scenes from several hit TV shows.

HBO’s award-winning addict recovery series “Euphoria” lost nearly two hours of footage on Amediateka, according to the Ostorozhno channel, Novosti Telegram.

Also, Amediateka changed the plot of the second season of “The White Lotus”, and when translated into Russian, the word “gay” was replaced with “man”. Viewers noticed the same translation alteration in an episode of “Sex and the City”.

Russian officials have denied the existence of lists of banned books and the legislator Alexander Khinshtein, one of the authors of the anti-LGBT law, said earlier this year that Rozkomnadzor had not ordered steam rigs to mount shows.

The vague content of the legislation makes it very difficult for commercial departments to know how to react, according to Yekaterina Tyagay, partner at Pen & Paper, Attorneys at Law.

A library in Moscow.  Sergei Vedyashkin / Moscow News Agency

A library in Moscow.
Sergei Vedyashkin / Moscow News Agency

In particular, there is no definition of what kind of information should be considered “LGBT propaganda,” she said, or exactly what “distribute” means.

It cannot be ruled out that even a passing mention of “non-traditional relationships” in books, print or on-screen publications could be labeled by authorities as “propaganda”, Tyagay told the Moscow Times.

This lack of clarity has not only sparked widespread concern and led to self-censorship, but also sparked reactions of panic.

Russia’s Raduga (“Rainbow” in Russian) theater festival dropped its name from this year’s event over concerns they appeared to promote LGBT values, festival manager Svetlana Lavretsova said. said Teatr magazine in January.

The main Russian bookstores Chitay-Gorod, Labirint and Respublika would have chose to proactively remove “ineligible” books from inventory at the end of last year.

Cases of “overinsurance” are likely to become more common until the law is clearer, according to attorney Tyagay.

A document drafted by Roskomnadzor on the criteria for determining “LGBT propaganda” is expected to come into force in September.

Meanwhile, the first criminal case under the new law is already underway.

Russian font open a case against publisher Popcorn Books, known for its focus on young adult books that tackle themes of self-identification, racism and sexism, in January.

Popcorn Books has drawn the ire of nationalist activists by publishing “Leto v Pionerskom Galstuke” (“Summer in a Pioneer Tie”), a young adult Bestseller about a relationship between two teenagers.

As of last month, “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” was no longer available in Russian bookstores, including online.

Librarian Kosarevsky, who is openly gay, has been fired after revealing he was the one who leaked the list of banned books in a interview last month.

He then left Russia.

However, he remained hopeful that his former colleagues would find secret ways to avoid destroying books, just as Kuznetsova’s grandmother had saved them in the Soviet Union.

In an interview, Kosarevsky urged readers not to return banned books to libraries, where they could be pulled from shelves and destroyed.

“The ways to save books are known,” he said.

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