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Gone mad with political correctness How Russia's anti-fascist censorship has jumped the shark

Source: Meduza

Russians have been celebrating the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany for nearly 70 years. This May, millions of people across the country will tie a ribbon to their chest, give thanks to a grandparent or great grandparent, and pay homage to the Soviet military triumph that continues to serve as a raison d'etre for the Russian Federation today. This year—probably because of the patriotic fervor kicked up by more than a year of hostilities in Ukraine, and possibly because “70 years” is just a pretty, round number—preparations for Victory Day have spawned a new breed of political correctness that has led to a series of strange, sometimes downright ridiculous cases of censorship. Meduza revisits some of the most absurd episodes in this trend.

Selling Nazi stuff

In early April, Moscow’s district attorney issued an official warning to a local toy store. The offense? The store was selling a series of figurines depicting infamous Nazi officers, like SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny. The day before police acted, the state-controlled television station Vesti ran a scathing report about the toys, sending a correspondent to the store to interview angry customers and nonplussed salesclerks.

This case in Moscow isn’t Russia’s only toy-related police crackdown. In mid-April, the district attorney in Sochi (home of the 2014 Winter Olympics) launched an investigation against the owner of a local antique shop because he was selling a WWII-era German military uniform that included a swastika. If convicted, the shop owner could go to jail for two weeks.

On April 6, back in Moscow, investigators confiscated a model airplane from a hobby store because it depicted a “Finnish swastika,” and police seized the store’s computers and “other toys featuring banned symbols.”

Raids for the Motherland

On April 20, an anti-terrorism task force in the Moscow government announced that city officials are planning a series of spot inspections of stores, gift shops, and newsstands, to search for products with banned symbols, such as swastikas. The raids are meant to weed out any materials, including souvenirs, containing swastikas or the emblems of banned organizations, and anything featuring Nazi propaganda or slogans.

Pulling Maus from bookshelves

On April 27, Moscow’s hunt for swastikas reached a new level of absurdity, when people began reporting that bookstores were removing from their shelves copies of the graphic novel Maus, Art Spiegelman’s anti-fascist masterpiece. Apparently, store owners are refusing to sell the book before Victory Day because it features a swastika on its cover.

Ending sales of Maus seems to be the organic response of Moscow bookstores to the new climate of political correctness.

Moscow's House of Books. "Maus" is in its [usual] place.
Darya Peshchikova

Following news about shops pulling Spiegelman’s book, Echo of Moscow journalist Darya Peshchikova hurried to Moscow’s House of Books and discovered that Maus was still on the shelf. When she asked a salesclerk about the book and mentioned reports that it had been removed from sales, however, the clerk saw the swastika and pulled Maus from the shelf herself!

Patriots don’t twerk

Outside stores, Russia’s new obsession with protecting the sanctity of everything associated with World War II has landed a handful of young women from Novorossiysk in jail. The girls were convicted of “hooliganism” for dancing ever so sexily against the backdrop of a war memorial called Malaya Zemlya.

Girls dance in Novorossiysk in front of the Malaya Zemlya memorial.

One of the dancers received a two-week jail sentence, while two of her friends got ten days behind bars. Another two women in the video avoided any jail time because of health issues, getting a fine, instead. One of the girls’ mothers earned herself a fine, too, because her daughter was underage. The judge penalized her for failing to “ensure measures facilitating the physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, and moral development” of her child.

The incident in Novorossiysk follows an analogous scandal in Orenburg, where a video of few dozen young women twerking in skimpy bee costumes resulted in the closure of a dance studio, a criminal investigation, and the city’s decision to inspect all Orenburg's dance studios, to make sure nobody else is teaching girls to shake their posteriors in a similar fashion.

Many commenting on the Orenburg twerking dancers have noted that their bee costumes, striped in orange and black, resembled the colors of St. George’s ribbon—Russia’s most ubiquitous patriotic symbol. 

Kevin Rothrock

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