Friday, January 20, 2023

‘Written by a Foreign Agent’ Now Russian Equivalent of ‘Banned in Boston’

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 16 – There was a time, not so many decades ago, when an American author hoped his book would be “banned in Boston” by the morals police there, knowing that if that happened, he or she could count on greater sales elsewhere. Now, something similar is happening in Russia with “Written by a Foreign Agent” on the cover guaranteeing sales.

            A Vladivostok bookseller has packaged books by Leonid Parfenov, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Aleksey Polyarnikov, and Dmitry Bykov in plain brown paper and written on them their names and the notation that they are “foreign agents” (

            In fact, none of these except for Bykov enjoys that status, but the bookstore clearly wanted to protect itself against charges that it was in any way promoting books by foreign agents as is required by a Russian law that went into effect last month. However that may be, a picture of the covers went viral on Russian social media.

            Most applauded the bookdealer for cleverness, but one journalist, Kirill Shulika, pointed out what this really says about the “foreign agent” label. Now, he says, no one cares who is a foreign agent but only about who has not been awarded that status, something those who have wear as a kind of badge of honor.

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