Choices Narrow in Russian Bookstores Amid Anti-LGBT Law, Wartime Restrictions

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From The Moscow Times:

Ordinary Russians are unable to access an increasingly broad range of literature as bookshops and libraries pull titles from their shelves amid a wartime crackdown on political dissent and a November law banning LGBT “propaganda.” 

In particular, failing to comply with the controversial — and vague — anti-LGBT law puts shops at risk of large fines or, at worst, closure.

“We are actually afraid,” said Lyubov Belyatskaya, the co-owner of Vse Svobodny, an independent, liberal-leaning bookstore in Russia’s second city St. Petersburg.

The problems faced by bookshops and libraries, which were previously places less affected by Russia’s political repression, are a testament to the mounting pressure on the world of literature that is narrowing access to both fiction and non-fiction titles. 

A lack of clarity about the anti-LGBT law signed by President Vladimir Putin late in 2022 — which outlaws public depictions of “non-traditional” relationships — has created confusion among booksellers about which titles can now be legally displayed and sold. 

“Everyone started panicking,” said the owner of another liberal-leaning bookstore in St. Petersburg who asked to remain anonymous. 

“Some of our vendors stopped supplying some books on their own initiative even though they weren’t really covered by the new law.”

Representatives from several retailers told The Moscow Times that they had received no information from the authorities about which books were prohibited.

​​As a result, some shops are removing titles on their own initiative or in line with requests from publishers. Others are consulting with lawyers.  

Immediately after the law’s signing, “Leto v Pionerskom Galstuke” (“Summer in a Pioneer Tie”), a young adult bestseller about a relationship between two teenage boys, reportedly vanished from shelves at major Russian retail chains such as Chitay-Gorod.

The book was repeatedly cited by lawmakers during the the anti-LGBT law’s passage through parliament.

Some businesses have taken a blanket approach, pulling books with even a passing mention of LGBT relationships or lifestyles.

At Vse Svobodny bookshop in St. Petersburg, managers have been removing books based on lists provided by publishing houses.

“After consulting with their lawyers, [the publishers] decided that these books could be interpreted as some kind of propaganda,” said Vse Svobodny’s co-owner Artyom Faustov. 

“The authorities believe that we should determine it ourselves, but how to do this is completely incomprehensible,” he told The Moscow Times. 

“A book dealer cannot and is not obliged to read every book and know what’s inside them.” 

. . . .

“It’s very simple: we have a list coming from the city administration and we comply with it,” a shop administrator at the Bukvoyed bookstore in the center of St. Petersburg told a Moscow Times reporter on a recent visit.

“It will work just like with forbidden literature, such as ‘Mein Kampf’.”

LitRes, Russia’s largest e-book seller, has even asked some authors to rewrite works to comply with the anti-LGBT law, the RBC news website reported in December.

Link to the rest at The Moscow Times

8 thoughts on “Choices Narrow in Russian Bookstores Amid Anti-LGBT Law, Wartime Restrictions”

    • Why limit yourself?
      “Write a 1000 word essay each on everyday life and life expectacy in today’s Russia and China today vs the US. You will not be graded on a curve and accuracy will matter.”

    • That is a feature, not a bug.
      If they were precise, people would know what they can and can’t do. Keeping it undefined lets them invoke it against anybody that catches their attention for any reason.

      Arbitrary application of vague laws is great for cowing the serfs. It’s the same tactic behind woke cancel culture.

    • It might yet get away from Putin.
      He has been relying a lot on the mercenaries of the Wagner group and a tame Chechen militia. Latests report has the russian energy monopoly, Gazprom, quietly building up its own militia.

      Considering the terminal ethnic russian demographics and that several non-slavic “republics” of the federation are upset that their men are being drafted to die in Ukraine, the seeds are in place for a replay of the breakup of Yugoslavia. But with nukes.

      The life expectancy of russian men 20-40 is looking to be pretty short; months rather than years, lead posoning or RDX exposure rather than old age.

      (Oddly, a new trend: thousands of pregnant russian women are flying to Argentina to give birth. Birth tourism, Russian style.)

      We may be seeing the early stages of the death of a nation.

  1. And nature abhors a vacuum. Both China and Russia are in population death spirals. Not a good time for them to be playing the long game.

    • …or picking a fight with the folks who enable their survival.

      In russia’s case, they thought they had a monopoly of EU energy and are discovering the EU was their monopsony. It’s taken a year but they’ve been replaced as a supplier but they haven’t replace the EU consumption.

      Their expectation that China would make up most of the losses hasn’t borne out because China’s economy is shrinking and (worse) was never as big as they pretended.

      The biggest threat is both are headed into deeper trouble and are more likely to lash out than admit they are destroying their own countries.

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