Russia’s ban on swearing in the arts - I say nyet!

‘There are official searchers, inquisitors … sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words …’ - Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel

I haven’t seen much media coverage of the new ban on swear words in the arts in Russia and I was initially suspicious that it was some kind of hoax. A cock and bull story …

Because, could it really be true that Russia has just introduced a law forbidding authors, film-makers, playwrights, musicians and even bloggers from using certain supposedly obscene words or face a fine? The words - cock (хуй) , cunt (пизда), to fuck (ебать), whore (бляд) - aren’t, I’ll admit, ones I myself use all that regularly - except when I’m chatting with my mum (not really) - but then I’m not an artist. And in any case, should they really be banned from the arts? Or from any sphere? Along with the spirit of Chekov, Doestoyevsky, Stravinsky and Sokurov, I say nyet!

Maryam Omidi wonders whether this is yet another political move from Vladimir Putin aimed at fusing together social conservativism and nationalism. Cleanse the language, consider a clampdown on foreign words as well, and attach all this to a resurgent nationalism. Could be.

After the attack on radical artists-cum-political activists in the Pussy Riot case, the follow-up blasphemy law from last year, and of course the country’s notorious prohibition on “gay propaganda”, there’s clearly a concerted drive among Putinite Russian politicians to institutionalise conservative social mores, even at the expense (especially at the expense?) of outraging international opinion. Artists are always easy targets for this kind of thing and it’s been going on in Russia since at least the punitive mid-2000s treatment of the art exhibiter Yuri Samodurov.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the few pieces of “real” art I have in my flat at home is an Oleg Yanushevski “contemporary icon”, a pastiche of a traditional Russian icon, complete with a clockwork mechanism and a button which says “PUSH ME”. It’s called “MINI HOMO ICON” and is from St Petersburg in 2004. It’s kitsch yet serious and I genuinely like it (it’s perched on top of some drawers in the bedroom and it sometime slips causing the mechanism to suddenly whir loudly, a disconcerting deus ex machina!). The point, of course, is that Yanushevski was effectively forced out of Russia because his art was considered too scandalous. The “cultural wars” in Russia have been going on for some time, but now they seem to be intensifying.

But back to the cock-cuntery shenanigans. As it happens, my Russian-speaking girlfriend didn’t know the cock-cunt-fuck-whore quartet of now-forbidden words at all because her fairly decorous Russian teacher hadn’t actually taught them to her. What the fuck! Now Russia’s lawmakers have inadvertently introduced an eager Russian-speaker to a clutch of supposedly undesirable words. Perversely, what’s what banning things generally does - draws attention to them, makes them more popular. Get ready for the next generation of art in Russia which consciously reacts against the ludicrous swear-word ban and storms the language citadel … 

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts