Pornography and Democratization: Legislating Obscenity in Post-Communist Russia

Pornography and Democratization: Legislating Obscenity in Post-Communist Russia

Pornography and Democratization: Legislating Obscenity in Post-Communist Russia

Pornography and Democratization: Legislating Obscenity in Post-Communist Russia

Synopsis

Pornography and its control is a persistent issue of debate in the Western world. Our notion of modern liberal democracy rests upon a belief that every individual has the right to self-determination. Yet few people are willing to tolerate pornography unrestricted. Instead, complex models and practices are created in which personal freedom and state control intermix uncomfortably. As the former communist states of Eastern Europe strive to become liberal democracies, this unresolved issue from the West becomes their problem as well. In this book, Paul Goldschmidt explores the politics of pornography and censorship in Russia today as a facet of the overall process of creating a liberal democracy in the former Soviet Union. The author clarifies the complex Western debate over pornography by suggesting four basic paradigms that underlie legislative approaches to pornography: conservatism, libertarianism, anti-pornography feminism, and anti-censorship feminism. A survey of sexually explicit Russian literature and the history of Russian reactions to pornography reveals a heavy reliance on conservatism as an approach and on censorship as a policy. Using newly available archival material and exclusive interviews, the author explores this reaction of Russian officials to the problem of free speech. In the process, two indigenous alternatives to the response of censorship appear: the civil rights approach against pornography and the sex-education approach. Both strategies were pioneered by Western feminists, but they are taking on different manifestations in the Russian milieu. The conclusion is that these new approaches provide an encouraging sign of progress towards Russia's goal of creating democracy. This multidisciplinary study of what is required to create an effective and democratic policy response to the challenge of pornography will prove of interest to scholars of various fields, including democratic theory, feminist political thought, and Russian politics and history.

Excerpt

In the "bad old days" of the Soviet regime, there was allegedly no sex in Russia, but for at least the past decade, there has been sex and in great abundance. Naked bodies adorn even the most mainstream journals and newspapers, movies (both domestic and imported) regularly feature sex scenes, television portrays explicit sex in regular prime time hours, and all of these developments do not even begin to get at the vibrant pornography industry. Pornographic videos (mostly pirated copies of Western-produced films), magazines, newspapers, and live sex-shows can be found in Russia today. There are even pornographic webpages on the Internet that are created and maintained in Russia.Yet, for all this proliferation, there is little official understanding.

In January 1994, Nina Vasil'eva of Moscow stood accused in criminal court of seeking to "propagandize the cult of cruelty and pornography." The prosecution cited as its evidence a latex phallus found in the display case of her street-side kiosk. By having the object out in full public view, argued the prosecutor, she was deliberately trying to corrupt public mores. The court, however, had its doubts. Did the display of a marital aid constitute "pornography" or was this woman merely engaged in legitimate commercial activity? To resolve the issue, the court sought the advice of an art historian, who in turn reasoned that the public display of an imitation phallus was not pornography, nor was it even "erotic" for that matter. The sale of such items was a medical matter and the display of them for the purposes of such sale could no more be forbidden than the display of aspirin or fitness books. The case was far from atypical. On average, Moscow-based art historian Vladimir Borev (whose specific labors we will look at in Chapter 6) gets 300-400 requests annually from the militsiia to help them figure out what is (illegal) pornography and what is (legal) erotica. Obviously, Russian law enforcement is having trouble with this issue. Why?

The growing visibility of the issue can certainly be blamed on the quantity of pornography in the former Soviet Union (both imported and home-grown), but the problem of controlling it cannot be fully attributed to increasing scale.Russia, as it emerges out of its authoritarian past, has to come to grips with the problems that any democracy faces. One of these problems is pornography. In the old days, the Soviet Union censored . . .

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