“...publishing in the Soviet Union was the art of the impossible.”
February 22, 2016 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Russian Purge Part 1: Putin Doesn't Need to Censor Books. Publishers Do It For Him. by Masha Gessen [The Intercept_]
“So, could you publish my Putin book?”
“No,” he says simply. “That’s not possible.”
“Have you asked the lawyers about it?”
He is very patient with me.
“That’s just not possible. But some day.”
There we have it. Publishing in Russia is the art of the possible. That is not the same thing as censorship. Or is it?
Part 2: The Horror Story of Publishing Children’s Books in Russia by Masha Gessen [The Intercept_]
At first, the law had publishers in a panic. If you believed what it said, Russian children were to be protected from reading in general. Children under the age of 6 could read about violence only if it was not described in detail, the author’s sympathies were clearly with the victim, and good triumphed over evil. There, apparently, went Little Red Riding Hood, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm. Between the ages of 6 and 12, children were allowed to learn about illness but not death. Violence continued to be off limits. So, obviously, did sex, and indeed any “naturalistic” description of the human body. Little Red Riding Hood, in other words, would still be too much for older kids, to say nothing of adventure novels and just about any contemporary Western books for this age group.
Part 3: For Putin's Censors, Only Suicide is Worse than Homosexuality by Masha Gessen [The Intercept_]
It is the opinion of Russian censors that there is something worse than homosexuality, and that is suicide.The law “On Protecting Children From Information Harmful to Their Health and Development” bans the propaganda of suicide to anyone under 18. A September 2013 order from Roskomnadzor, the communications authority, explains what that means: “any mention of suicide as a way of solving a problem” and “the inclusion of information of one or more ways to commit suicide, descriptions or demonstrations, including textual … of processes and procedures that depict any sequence of actions.” A news site for the city of Saratov was so stymied by these restrictions that in September it published the following headline [Russian] about a high school senior’s suicide: “In Saratov, After a Fight With Her Parents, a Student Committed a Certain Act for Certain Reasons.” Reporting what the girl had done might have violated the ban on description of suicide, and reporting why she had done it might have suggested it was her way of solving a problem.
posted by Fizz (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You would think the prohibitions regarding description of suicide would cause all sorts of problems when discussing religious, political, and military martyrs. Like, are you allowed to say "Christ died for our sins"?
posted by XMLicious at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2016

All these prohibitions are not meant to create a set of objectively enforced guidelines, they are used as a stick to beat those who step out of the line. This is extensively discussed in the article and is in my opinion the point of writing it.
posted by hat_eater at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

XMLicious, if the laws were applied evenly of course. But everyone knows they won't be. As long as the book in question is clearly promoting the Russian Orthodox Church none of those rules will apply. I'm sure someone could write a book aimed at the six and under crowd filled brim to brim with graphic depictions of torture, as long as it was about the Passion of Christ.

Likewise I'm sure no one will complain if a book about Jesus includes a description of how Judas killed himself, or Jesus bringing back Lazarus from the dead.

Where I disagree with hat_eater is that I don't think the law even exists mainly as a stick to beat those who step out of line, though it certainly will do that job and I have no doubt it will be applied to that end quite aggressively. Mostly I'd argue it exists as a threat to get publishers to self censor to an *even greater degree* than the law as written demands.
posted by sotonohito at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

From part 2, talking about the new law restricting what can be included in books for children (and specifying typefaces and font size as well as content restrictions):
The good news was, no one rushed to ban Little Red Riding Hood or to rebuild every library and bookstore in the land to put a distance of over 100 yards between the adult and children’s book sections, as the new law required. This law, like any other absurdly restrictive law, could not and would not be enforced as written. The bad news was, it would be enforced in other ways, selective and unpredictable. Impossible and implausible laws serve as signals rather than rules, especially in a society like Russia, which has been conditioned to be supremely sensitive to signals from up top. Soviet-era laws banned so many things — for example, the resale of goods, making too much money, not making any money, spending the night away from one’s official residence — that most people were in breach of the law most of the time. To know how to act, or to create the illusion of knowing, citizens looked for subtle, between-the-lines messages from the top.
posted by not that girl at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is great, I love her writing:
In Moscow, a city of 12 million people, there is only one bookstore where you can buy the Navalny-Michnik book.

The store is called Phalanstere, the name for an imaginary communal dwelling in the socialist utopias of 19th-century writer Charles Fourier. You can find anything in Phalanstere, except you can’t find anything in Phalanstere because there are so many books there and so little room. Also, you can’t find Phalanstere itself unless you know exactly where it is: in the unremarkable courtyard of an unmarked building on a small side street, up a flight of stairs, behind a closed door. It’s a couple of small city blocks from the posh cafe where Danishevsky holds his meetings, but it feels like a tiny place that time forgot, because it is a rare uncommercialized block of Moscow. The director of Phalanstere, a large bearded 43-year-old named Boris Kupriyanov, would probably hold all his meetings outside in the back alley, smoking, except I protested that it was too cold to take notes.
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 10:51 AM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I realize there's no intent to be fair; I didn't strike quite the right note of sarcasm there.
posted by XMLicious at 10:55 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

"But it's not censorship if corporations do it!" BLURGH
posted by JHarris at 3:12 PM on February 22, 2016

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