Russian shops are clearing the shelves of any novels featuring LGBT characters for fear of falling foul of “gay propaganda” laws, while libraries are hiding texts written by “foreign agents,” a Soviet-era term used by the Russian authorities.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Monday a draconian “gay propaganda” bill. In effect, the law bans any mention of LGBT people. And lawmakers never specified how “propaganda” differs from “demonstration” – meaning that, among many other consequences, booksellers have a serious problem. The vague wording prompted some stores to start removing any book from sale if they even mention the LGBT community. For example, online store Labirint hid Hanya Yanagikhara’s novel “A Little Life,” books by Andre Aciman (including “Call Me by Your Name”) and works by Rainbow Rowell, who is known for her young adult fiction. Independent publisher Popcorn Books, which specializes in young adult literature, has completely halted the publishing or sale of any book with LGBT links.
- Eksmo-AST, Russia’s biggest publishing group, fears the new law could put up to 50% of books published in Russia at risk of confiscation.
- Some believe the law may even be aimed at LGBT literature. This year, the novel “Summer in a Pioneer Tie,” which tells the story of a gay romance at a Soviet-era summer camp became immensely popular. But it also aroused hostility: one deputy from the Khabarovsk region even ripped up a batch of the books on camera.
- Books written by “foreign agents” are also now problematic for booksellers. Such titles are already disappearing from Moscow’s libraries and, in some cases, are wrapped in opaque covers. In some stores, books by “foreign agents” are hidden on the shelves with their covers turned away from view.
Why the world should care
The disappearance of some books is another manifestation of the censorship that has gripped Russia since the start of the war. Today, the Russian authorities are only willing to tolerate “patriotic” content that elevates themes of Russia’s greatness and emphasizes what officials refer to as “traditional values.”