May 7, 2014

Russia isn’t taking any of your sh*t: Putin bans cursing


Russia - home of the nation-wide swear jar.

Russia – home of the nation-wide swear jar. Via Shutterstock.

Samuel L. Jackson now has something in common with Lady Gagaas of July, Russian law will prohibit aspects of both performers’ works. Vladimir Putin apparently wants to go back to the good old days of the Cold War, when homophobia was in, cursing was out, and all the hep cats knew Russia was a thing to be feared.

Mashable’s Colin Daileda reports that Putin is rolling out new legislature, effective July 1st, banning expletives from pop culture. As the official release from ITAR-TASS, a Russia state news site, explains, the law “prohibit[s] explicit language in literature and arts, mass media products, at concerts, theatrical performances, entertaining events, as well as in films.”

Performers or artists who drop a few Russian f-bombs at public events will be fined. Movies featuring foul language won’t be issued distribution licenses, and screenings will result in more fines. Failing to present commercial goods containing profanity sealed like issues of Playboy with a warning label slapped on will lead to, you guessed it, fines. ITAR-TASS lays out the penalties:

“The fines for foul language are about $56-70 for individuals, $112-140 for officials, $1,117-1,396 for legal entities. The law also stipulates higher fines and a three-month suspension of business activities for repeated offence.”

But what constitutes bad language? As Julia Fleischaker pointed out a couple months ago, Mongolia has a list of 774 words you can’t use on a website. According to the New Yorker’s David Remnick, there is an entire lexicon of the Russian language that consists entirely of cursing–it’s called “mat,” and it’s all extrapolated from only a few base curses. Putin’s particular list of shitty language “centers on the four pillars of mat: there is khuy (“cock”), pizda (“cunt”), ebat’ (“to fuck”), and blyad (“whore”).” I don’t know about you, but I just learned some new vocabulary I can’t wait to use.

Daileda notes that “the Russian government will reportedly stay out of the artistic process of musicians, performers and other artists, so they will be free to break the law and invite fines.” According to ITAR-TASS, “the rules do not apply” to any books, movies, or CDs “issued before the day the law has taken effect.” Which means that used bookstores will become the place to be to get your dirty words fix. Classic Russian literature certainly didn’t shy from a few four-letter equivalents—Remnick included a translation by A. Z. Foreman of one of Pushkin’s poems, “The Wagon of Life”:

At dawn we jump inside the wagon.
Happy to break our necks like glass,
We scorn life’s hedonistic languor,
And yell “Man, fuck it! Just haul ass!”


Sadie Mason-Smith is a Melville House intern.