Friday, May 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Like the Greek Colonels, Russia Now Bans ...

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 17 – At the end of Costa Garves’ classic 1969 film “Z” – Greek for “He lives” – about the suppression of an investigation by a Greek junta, the screen goes blank and then follows a list of things that the junta bans, including chewing gum, mini-skirts, Plato, and democracy.

            That now-distant mirror comes to mind when one reads Nikolay Kuznetsov’s listing on of the ten increasingly repressive and ultimately self-destructive “bans” that some Russian politicians have proposed and some Russian government agencies have adopted (  The ten include:

1.      The closing of 11 GPS stations, an action Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said had been taken in response to the suspension of eight GLONASS stations in the United States, stations that the US concluded Russia was using to collect intelligence data. 

2.      A prohibition on the use of rocket motors for the launch of US military satellites. In fact, as Kunetsov noted , the US had already decided not to purchase any of them as part of its sanctions regime.

3.      A group of Duma deputies want to ban advertising of condoms, pregnancy tests, and birth control medications. Such things, the deputies said, should only be advertised in “specialized publications.”  The same deputies also wanted to prohibit any advertisements by abortion providers. These bans have been rejected by the parliament.

4.      A month earlier, the foreign trade ministry proposed a ban on the import of medical equipment produced abroad, ranging from syringes to specialized instruments for coronary surgery.  Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets said that Russian medicine “today is well supplied [with its own domestically produced equipment] but is experiencing a shortage of qualified doctors.”

5.      Another group of Duma deputies proposed a ban on the use of telephones produced abroad. They said that this would “increase the defense of the military and civil telecommunications systems of the country.” At present, imported telephones of various kinds make up “about 90 percent” of this segment of the market.

6.      On March 4, Moscow officials called for a ban on the import of American pork because they said “the security of its production could not be guaranteed.  Such a prohibition was in fact imposed in February 2013 but then lifted.  US pork exports to Russia have been running at 1.3 million tons a year. Russian officials say that ending imports won’t lead to any shortages.

7.      Several Duma deputies want to ban Western accounting firms like Ernst&Young, McKinsey and Company, and KPMG form working in Russia and evaluating the activity of Russian government agencies involved in the economy.  The deputies say that such a ban will allow the Russian government and economic sectors to “become more independent.”

8.      Vitaly Milonov, a Duma deputy who gained international notoriety for his anti-gay propaganda law, now wants to prevent Conchita Wurst, who won the Euro-Vision song festival as a bearded lady, from entering Russia. Milonov earlier tried to block Lady Gaga and Madonna from coming to Russia.

9.      Another Duma deputy, Oleg Mikheyev, who is the deputy chairman of the parliament’s energy committee, wants, in the words of Kuznetsov, “to struggle with violence by banning any romanticization of the criminal world” in books, music, films, or the mass media.  According to Mikheyev, “in order to build a full-fledged civil society in Russia, factors which lead people to illegal behavior or justify it must be excluded.”

10.  Finally, Vladimir Zhirionovsky, the head of the LDPR Party and the source of many flamboyant and outrageous suggestions that sometimes have anticipated the direction Moscow will take wants to ban any appearance of Ukrainian artists and talents “who ‘occupy a anti-Russian position.’”

This list could easily be expanded to include things like the statements of Rogozin that the next time he travels to Moldova or Romania, he will be on a Russian bomber. And it is worth noting that many of these outrageous ideas may be nothing more than attempts to attract media attention and that at least so far few of them have led to actions.

But the analogy with Costa Garves’ film is worth recalling for another reason. As the title of his film suggested and as history played out, those who banned all those things were ultimately driven from the political scene by those who believed in the ideas and values that the authoritarians found so threatening.

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