Repression Russian language

Mikhail Edelshtein: “We have only two bonds: victory in the Second World War and homophobia”

Censorship has actually returned to Russian book publishing, and the state’s special attention today is connected with LGBT issues. Expert Center at the Russian Book Union discovered propaganda of non-traditional relationships in “The House at the End of the World” by Michael Cunningham, “The Inheritance” by Vladimir Sorokin, “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin. These books have already been withdrawn from sale – both printed and electronic. Other works removed from the school curriculum after massive complaints from readers. Occur periodicallylists and registers books not recommended for sale. And the biography of Pier Paolo Pasolini recently outs shaded pages – in the chapters where the director’s personal life was discussed. In an interview with T-invariant, cultural historian, candidate of philological sciences Mikhail Edelshtein told what these measures are connected with, how the current situation differs from military censorship of the last century and what role it plays in all this played by “offended graphomaniacs.”


Mikhail Yuryevich Edelshtein – cultural historian, researcher of Russian literature of the 20th century, as well as Nazi extermination camps and the memory of them in the post-war USSR. Born in 1972 in Kostroma. He graduated from the Faculty of Philology of Ivanovo State University and graduate school there. Candidate of Philology. Author of a number of literary critical articles and reviews in the magazines “New World”, “Znamya”, etc. He was in charge of the editorial office of the biographical dictionary “Russian Writers: 1800-1917” at the publishing house “Big Russian Encyclopedia”. He taught at the department of literary and artistic criticism and journalism at the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University. In the fall of 2022, he emigrated to Israel.

T-invariant: Persecution of LGBT people began in 2013, when it was adopted law on protecting children from homosexual propaganda. As for censorship on “non-traditional” grounds and truly repressive measures (recognition of the non-existent “international LGBT social movement” as an extremist organization ), then they came after 2022. What role do you think war plays here? Or did you just “get around to it” now?

Mikhail Edelstein: It seems to me that this is the general logic of the development of any campaign. If, say, at the end of the 1920s, only Trotsky’s inner circle was arrested, and even then the matter was mainly limited to exile, then in 1937 all the old Bolsheviks were shot in a row, as well as many who were not involved at all. Any ideological campaign is on the rise. First, the ground is prepared, trial balls are thrown in so that there is no feeling of an immediate and total loss of rights. Then some little-known people or movements become victims. And only then the repressions, like a snowball, gain momentum and volume. About the same thing happened with foreign agents.

As for war, there is undoubtedly a powerful element of internal propaganda, which relies on the so-called bonds.

And we have only two bonds now: victory in the Second World War and homophobia. “We freed everyone from Nazism, the whole world should be forever grateful to us” and “Geyropa wants to castrate us all.” This is exactly what the government is trying to unite people around. The fight against LGBT people has become manicnational idea.

This is the motivation for Russia’s distancing from the West. Because there is no West anymore, but there is Geyropa, where everyone screws each other in the most perverted ways, goes to gender-neutral toilets, prohibits calling parents mom, dad and numbers them, conducts unconventional propaganda in schools, and only gays are allowed to adopt children. families. And in their free time from all this, they are Russophobic and arm Ukraine. For many years this has been tirelessly talked about on all TV channels. If you now conduct a mass sociological survey in Russia and ask what the first association with the word “Europe” is, then, I think, among the most popular answers will be something like “the territory where all gays live.”

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T-i: In the memorable year 2022, one of the most popular books was the novel “Summer in a pioneer tie” – about the relationship between two young men. Is this popularity related to the topic of non-traditional relationships? And is the persecution of this book related to its popularity?

ME: The success of the book is undoubtedly related to the topic. This is a rather unexpected look at that very pioneer childhood for which many are nostalgic. That is, the novel is a kind of “old songs about the main thing,” but in a transgressive wrapper, and this went very well with readers. When persecution of the book began, many said: “Yes, this shouldn’t happen, but still the novel is not of particular artistic value, but truly great works will definitely not be touched.” Everyone knows what happened next. It is now clear that the “attack” on the novel by Malisova and Silvanova was a touchstone: they decided to start not with the classics, but with the text, although loud, but artistically not very significant. And it worked, not everyone began to sound the alarm, because – well, it’s also a masterpiece for me. As a result, having trained at the “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” and actually having destroyed the publishing house Popcorn Books, which published this book, moved on to larger targets.

Novel by Katerina Silvanova and Elena Malisova “Summer in a Pioneer Tie”

Funny detail. The action of “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” takes place in the camp named after the pioneer hero Zina Portnova. One of the initiators of the campaign against the novel was Zakhar Prilepin. He then published on all his social networks post that it is necessary to introduce liability for insulting Soviet symbols (including the red tie ), and lamented: they say, while we write in blogs about pioneer heroes, the publishing house makes money by desecrating their memory. At the same time, Prilepin mixed up Portnova’s name, calling her Zoya, and neither he nor any of his readers noticed or corrected this for two years. But this is so, remark aside. On the issue of memory of the heroic past and the cult of the Great Patriotic War.

T-i: Have there been similar manifestations of LGBT censorship in the history of Russian literature?

ME: As far as I know, no. Of course, in the Soviet Union there was censorship, and in the criminal code there was an article “sodomy”, and the books that we are discussing could not have appeared in those days. But it did not occupy any special place in public discourse; there were no mass campaigns. In the public sphere this was rather hushed up.

Moreover, today even in Islamic countries, where, say, it is impossible to imagine gay pride parades, there is no such mass psychosis about this as in today’s Russia. That is, the idea that we unite against gays, that this is the assembly point of the nation, is largely Putin’s know-how.

T-i: In connection with the story with the biography of Pasolini remembered that in the same way and for the same reason, fragments of Mikhail Kuzmin’s book of poems “Networks” were erased in the 1915 edition. Moreover, it was military censorship that did this.

ME: Yes, before the First World War Kuzmin was not without some problems, but it was published. Alexander Timofeev in his time published documents about the ban in 1907 of his comedy “Dangerous Precaution”, which ” glorifies homosexual love and contains arguments aimed at convincing the reader that pederasty is as natural as normal sexual relations, and gives the same high pleasures. But most of Kuzmin’s works reached the reader without hindrance, including the scandalous story «Wings» is a completely frank manifesto of homoeroticism.

Poetry collection “Networks” and the story “Wings” by Mikhail Kuzmin

The same applies to other writers of that time. Let’s say, the story of Vyacheslav Ivanov’s wife Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal “Thirty-three freaks” – the first literary text about lesbian relationships, it seems, in Russian literature – censor prohibitedas contrary to public morality (“Although the caresses lavished by a woman on a girl are presented with careful avoidance of dirt, the more subtle is the poison of unnatural debauchery is a wonderful wording). But the court ruled a month later that there was nothing so immoral about it. And the seized edition was sent to bookstores.

The story of Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal “Thirty-three freaks”

And in 1915, the military censorship really decided that at the very time when our boys were dying at the front, we could not afford this. And the corresponding fragments in the second edition of “Networks” were excluded. As far as I remember, at one book auction they even put up a copy that Kuzmin was preparing as a gift for one of his friends, and there the missing lines were written in his hand where the marks were.

T-i: How Can this whole situation with “LGBT censorship” affect the literary process and the publishing market in the future? What should you expect?

ME: First of all, self-censorship of publishers and writers. Now it is completely unclear where the boundaries of what is permitted are. There is, of course, nothing good in establishing such boundaries – but still, with them it is clear what is possible and what is not. And when they are not there, when everything is blurry and repressions can affect any book of any writer (both a debutant and a recognized classic), publishers will, to play it safe, withdraw anything from sale. For example, the author of “Giovanni’s Room,” James Baldwin, was traditionally considered one of the most skillful stylists in American literature of the 20th century; dissertations were defended and monographs were written on his work. Even in the Soviet Brief Literary Encyclopedia of the 1970s, he appears as a major prose writer and fighter for the rights of the black population of America, an ally of Martin Luther King. In late Soviet times this saved him, but now it doesn’t save him.

That is, everything depends on illiterate censors and their completely illiterate volunteer assistants. After the story of Pasolini, how can we publish biographies of, say, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann, Evelyn Waugh, or analyze their texts? And if someone finds out that the poem “Under the caress of a plush blanket …” is addressed to Sofya Parnok? Well, let’s ban Tsvetaeva and “Cruel Romance” to boot, this is a bad infinity, it has no limits. .

Homosexuality is a huge part of world culture, it cannot be ignored. What is happening now is destroying the cultural and scientific space, the opportunity to engage in any humanities. The history of the Civil War or the American trade union movement can probably be studied without touching on this topic. But there are vast areas in cultural studies, philology, and history where homosexuality cannot be ignored. I’m not even talking about gender studies: it is clear that they are buried in Russia.

And here is another problem: the Russian government is structured in such a way that your status is determined largely by your prohibitive functions. What you have the right to prohibit.

People who are members of some kind of expert center don’t really need all this, it’s an extra burden: reading, coming up with some solutions, and so on. But they have to do this because it is proof of their position in the power hierarchy.

In the recent history of the struggle between security forces and publishers, there was such an episode. Exactly 20 years ago, the State Drug Control Agency carried out a series of raids on bookstores, seizing books “promoting drugs.” Deputy Director of the State Drug Control Service, General Alexander Mikhailov, was then asked how to distinguish propaganda from a simple description. He answered very well: “A publisher, when he decides whether to publish a book, has an alternative: take a chance and get in, or take advice and don’t get in. There is an option to consult. You see, these people need to be consulted with, they cannot live without it, it is their bread and air. And since no one is in a hurry to seek their wise advice of their own free will, they have to organize raids and organize expert councils.

Hence, by the way, the blurred boundaries of what is permitted and prohibited that we talked about. I’m sure this is not a bug, but a feature. If someone in power had publicly said: “We will not ban Dostoevsky,” the publishers would have exhaled: “Hurray, “Netochka Nezvanova” can be released.” But if you say so or publish some clear set of rules, more or less definite rules of the game will be established, albeit humiliating and flawed, but still. And the more certainty, the lower the price of general and deputy councils. Therefore, no one is going to prescribe any clear boundaries, let the publishers continue to guess what is not allowed and what is possible. And they tremble.

T-i: Obviously, we should expect consequences in the educational sphere?

ME: They are already advancing. The story was removed from the school curriculum “Prisoner of the Caucasus” by Vladimir Makanin. Despite film adaptation and the fact that Putin awarded Makanin the State Prize of the Russian Federation for this work. But in the new conditions this is not important. The only important thing is whether there is any “unhealthy same-sex attraction” there. Despite the fact that Makanin’s story is in no way gay literature – unlike the same “Giovanni’s Room”, which is really “about this.”

T-i: Any prohibitions generate a surge of interest in the forbidden. Do those who make decisions about seizure understand this? This is even a kind of propaganda: if you want as many people as possible to read the book, ban it.

ME: The bureaucratic system does not care about efficiency in the sense that you are talking about. She doesn’t care whether they read it or not. What is important to her is integration into a national trend, a reason for reporting, for recording her “patriotism,” demonstrating her zeal to her superiors, and so on. There’s a completely different logic there. Are they downloading? Let them download. Well, maybe some site will be blocked. Or I will createThere is an additional division in Roskomnadzor that will ensure that network libraries remove these books. This is again a good reason to demonstrate your need and beg for additional funding.

As for the popularity of the forbidden, everything is so. I know cases where people who have never previously picked up Sorokin’s books now boast that they managed to buy the last copy of his novel. And Pasolini’s biography sold out in some online stores within a day. And, by the way, “Thirty-three Freaks” by the relatively little-known Zinovieva-Annibal, as a result of the scandal, became a bestseller in 1907, three editions sold out one after another.

Biographical book by Roberto Carnero “Pasolini. To die for ideas” (ed. “AST”)

T-i: It is not very clear what to do now for libraries that are required to have a copy of any book in the public domain.

ME: I assume that employees will be forced to consult all sorts of lists, remove something from catalogues, as is already happening with publications sponsored by the Soros Foundation and other undesirable organizations. Perhaps, like in the good old Soviet times, a special storage facility will appear where Michael Cunningham, Hanya Yanagihara and others will lie in anticipation of the next perestroika. For librarians, all this will create a kind of collective neurosis, which, in general, is also the goal of this campaign. Let them shake and blow on the water while waiting for verification.

T-i: It can be assumed that in the current realities someone will take advantage of the situation not because they care about the bonds, but out of envy of the lucky ones authors and publishers, out of a banal desire to settle scores, to rein in opponents.

ME: Of course, this is one of the most powerful motives. I wrote about this quite recently. There is no greater hater of a bestselling author than an author whose books are not bestsellers.

Many graphomaniacs justify their failures by saying that the liberal mafia put a spoke in their wheels and prevented their brilliant novels from reaching the mass reader. And they are now trying to form something like a prohibition lobby.

Suffice it to recall the story of Olga Uskova, who complainedthat the AST publishing house, instead of promoting her book, advertises Sorokin’s pornography.

T-i: I also wanted to ask you what books and authors may be given away in the future. But, perhaps, there is no point in suggesting?

ME: First of all, yes, I don’t want to give any hints. Secondly, it all depends on the corruption of the inspectors’ imagination. I am sure that Milonov or Yampolskaya, due to their imagination, can read in any text something that psychoanalysts or philologists, who have specialized in this all their lives, will not find. This means that not a single author and not a single book is insured.

Text: Dmitry Krechetov


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