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Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

  • Daniel Schearf

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws.

Russian theater emerged from the strict propaganda of the Soviet era as a diverse forum for social discourse and creative expression.

A recently enacted law against profanity hits theaters with fines of up $1,400, however, if their work includes swear words deemed inappropriate.

Law's advocates

The law's supporters, like Moscow State University History Professor Anna Kuzmina, say it will help promote a better artistic culture.

“My personal opinion, and I support this law, is that profane language has almost become the norm and even has acquired a certain charm. Frequently, people do not take the trouble of finding the words, but speak emotionally expressing themselves with five or six, four-letter words,” she said.

The profanity law also bans the public showing of films with swear words and forces music and books to have warning labels.

While some artists agree that profanity is sometimes abused to gain attention, most are staunchly against any form of censorship-including fines.

Elena Gremina is head of the independent Theatre-Doc, which refuses to abide by the law enacted in July by Russia's parliament, the Duma.

“Our Duma was nicknamed a "crazy printer" as the laws in the field of culture are dumb and each next one is dumber. They are illogical, absurd, and one cannot understand their reasoning,” said Gremina.

Cultivating nationalism

Some of Russia's historic literary giants, such as Alexander Pushkin, employed curse words with great flare.

Before the law came into effect, playwright Evgeniy Kazachkov helped organize a comic show called “Goodbye to Four-Letter Words.”

He said there are serious concerns, though, about the restriction.

“There is also a suspicion that this law, that is written rather obliquely, will be used not as a universal instrument of control and punishment, but to target certain undesirable people in certain unique cases,” said Kazachkov.

The law is seen as part of a conservative movement to shape Russia's youth into a more nationalistic culture distinct from the liberal West.

Last year the Duma criminalized what it called “homosexual propaganda” and made efforts to ban English words borrowed into Russian.

Nikitsky Theater Director Mark Rozovsky said Russia's legislature is using morality laws to distract society from real, urgent problems they are not willing to tackle.

“You know, nothing can be reached by bans. They only yield the opposite results [of what is trying to be achieved]. It is like when they were fighting against vodka-drinking. In the same way they are now fighting against profane language,” he said.

Russia is taking its battle against profanity to the Internet with plans to launch “swearbot” software in the coming weeks designed to root-out language deemed inappropriate online.

Russia's Ministry of Culture declined a request by VOA to comment on the issue.

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