Lower Russian house of parliament passes ban on swearing in public performances

Vulgar tradition threatened by ban on swearing in public performances

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:10pm


Russia's rich tradition of vulgar slang has long been a matter of pride for its authors and poets. Fyodor Dostoevsky once claimed a Russian could express his entire range of feelings with the swear word for the male sexual organ.

But a new ban on explicit language in public performances means that some of the country's best known directors, musicians and actors could face fines, and classic works of literature and cinema could be sold in special packaging with a warning sticker.

The lower house of parliament has passed a law banning foul language in public performances including film showings, plays and concerts. Audio, video and books containing swear words are required to be sold in special packaging featuring an explicit language warning.

Fines range from 2,500 roubles (HK$537) for ordinary citizens to 100,000 roubles for businesses. Repeat offences will lead to a suspension of up to one year for those who violate in an official capacity, or a 90-day cessation for commercial enterprises.

Although President Vladimir Putin must sign the law before it comes into effect, the president signed a similar law last year banning foul language in the media.

Just as that law was criticised for lacking a clear definition of foul language, the new legislation on artistic works does not specify which words will be banned. Instead, it proposes that "words and phrases not meeting the norms of modern Russian literary language" be determined by an independent panel of experts. It is not clear whether music and films that bleep out swear words would fall under the ban.

The legislation would pose problems for a wide number of authors, directors and performers. Leningrad, one of Russia's most popular bands, is famous for its vulgar lyrics, and even has a profanity-laced song that declares "it's impossible to live without swearing".

Meanwhile, Russian blockbusters occasionally include crude dialogue, and several hit plays in recent years have featured prominent and creative use of swear words.

Rock star Yuri Shevchuk, a Bono-like figure who challenged Putin on questions of free speech during a televised meeting in 2010, warned that the legislation was part of a growing conservative trend in Russia, which he said could "devolve into a dark age".

He added: "I'm against bans. I'm against all government interference in art. We have these bans within each of us, in our morality, what we can and can't allow ourselves. They're formed by upbringing and religion."

Media outlets have already faced prosecution for foul language, and the information agency Rosbalt was briefly closed after it posted two videos that included swearing.

The media law was widely condemned by journalists, and the legislation on artistic performances has already angered cultural figures. Writer Sergei Shargunov called the law sanctimonious and said that even classic Russian literature contains swear words, including the works of great Russian poets. "So now let's ban Pushkin, Yesenin, Mayakovsky?" he asked.

Swearing also features in the works of novelists such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Sergei Dovlatov.