Moscow bans books with 'incorrect' history
by Vladimir Rozanskij

A law has come into force forbidding comparisons between the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany. Texts showing Nazi symbols on the cover will be banned. The measure could affect texts on the August 1939 agreement between Stalin and Hitler.  


Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russian booksellers are in a state of panic. On July 12 a new law came into force in the country forbidding the "comparison of the actions of the USSR and Germany during the Second World War". It is one of the provisions that follow the constitutional amendments approved last year, which also include the 'correct reading of patriotic history'.

In recent days, Vladimir Putin has published a controversial article on his presidential website about relations between Russians and Ukrainians, whom he describes as 'common heirs of the ancient Rus'.  He points out that it was the Soviet Union that saved the 'unity of the Eastern Slavs' during the Nazi invasion. The piece is only the latest in a series of Kremlin interventions on the importance of a correct historical reading on the period of what Russians call the 'Great Patriotic War'.

The new measure is accompanied by amendments to another law, the one on 'combating extremist activity'. Through this piece of law, Putin has eliminated the Navalnist opposition from the electoral competition, in which the 'use of symbols and images of Nazi criminals' is also forbidden. The authorities have therefore started a colossal audit of all publications: the aim is to ban those that might violate the new measures even remotely.

The Russian booksellers' association appealed to the Kremlin, receiving a response from spokesman Dmitry Peskov: "If there are obvious figures on the cover that recall Nazi symbols, it is clear that this form of dissemination is not acceptable and is not permitted by law. According to Peskov, 'If it is [instead] a matter of general information in the text, or even images inside, then it is a different matter'. In short, books should be banned more for their visual effect than for their content.

A special commission of the Russian Ministry of Justice met to shed greater light on the issue. It also invited representatives of the Union of Booksellers, the Russian Historical Society, the Guild of Publishers and the Association of Librarians. The commission is due to provide a detailed explanation of what the new law prohibits and permits in the next few days. Nonetheless, Booksellers are confused: Moskva, the main bookshop in the centre of the capital, has over 30,000 titles for sale. It is a rather complicated process to check them all.

The authorities have not even clarified what will happen to the confiscated books: burning them in the public square seems out of the question, also because it would be reminiscent of Nazi demonstration rites. It is thought that they will be recycled, according to more contemporary practices.

One of the people most affected could be the famous illustrator Andrej Bondarenko. For his frequent use of Nazi symbols in a symbolic-ironic key, his covers are particularly targeted by the new laws. One of the books he illustrated was the Russian edition of the novel 'Making History' by British actor and screenwriter Steven Fry. The hero of the story returns to the past and throws birth control pills down the sewers to prevent Hitler from being born. On the cover Bondarenko imagined a mouse in a Nazi uniform, which now risks having the volume taken off the shelves.

Other texts and shows are also at risk of being cancelled, such as "Family Album", staged at the Majakovsky Theatre on the play by Thomas Bernhard, the great anti-fascist playwright: his posters show a Nazi hat placed upside down on a man's head. The Russian version of the historian Roger Moorhouse's book on the "devil's pact" between the Nazis and the Communists on the eve of the Second World War is also at great risk in terms of its content. Very popular in Russia and throughout the world, the text touches on the very burning issue that the new law has prohibited even touching on: the relationship between Stalin and Hitler and between the two great totalitarianisms of the 20th century.