In Russia the first criminal case for the violation of the new law against ‘LGBT propaganda’

In Russia, the first criminal case against the independent publisher Popcorn Booksm which published the book Leto v pionerskom galstuke (“A summer with a pioneer handkerchief”), written by Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova.

The complaint was filed by one of the main exponents of United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s party, as well as a member of the Duma, Alexander Khinshtein, under a pre-existing law and recently extended prohibiting so-called “LGBT propaganda”.

Released in 2021, A summer with a pioneer handkerchief tells the love story, which blossomed in 1986 in a Ukrainian summer camp of Soviet Young Pioneers, between 16-year-old Yuri and team leader and university student Volodya, 19-year-old. For both protagonists to accept their homosexuality is difficult. Falling in love with Volodya, Yuri does not know if his feelings are reciprocated and tries to hide them, while the fear of Volodya, who suffers from internalized homophobia, is to ‘seduce’ the young pioneer with whom he tries to end the relationship, stifling his emotions .

They both know the stakes are high. In the Soviet Union of the time, having a homosexual relationship in the open meant risking a five-year prison sentence. Their lives, at the end of the summer, will separate. The novel will end 20 years later, in 2006, with Yuri going in search of a box containing love letters but, above all, of Volodya.

The themes addressed by the two authors of the novel raise extremely thorny issues in Russian society: the stigmatization of LGBTQ people, the impossibility of openly building homosexual relationships and the need to hide them. Malisova and Silvanova, who met on the online self-publishing platform Ficbook where they released the book, received such positive feedback that they submitted it to Popcorn Books.

Within six months of its release, the book had sold more than 200,000 copies, becoming a best seller and causing an enormous sensation. Posts about the novel have reached more than 250 million views on TikTok, where it all started in 2021, when a reader posted a video about the book that went viral.

But only a month after the release of the book, threats to imprison, rape and kill the authors started on social networks. At the end of last summer the “scandal” caused by LVP extension (as the novel is called by fans) swelled up to calls to remove the book from Russian stores.

The publication of the novel literally generated panic. Zakhar Prilepin, writer and nationalist militant, he has declared publicly that he wanted to burn down the Moscow offices of Popcorn Books. How told from the New York Times, Oscar winner Nikita Mikhalkov criticized it as a conspiracy organized by a degenerate West. Vitaly Milonov, a member of parliament, suggested handing over the staff of the publishing house to the Ukrainian army so he would be comfortable among fellow degenerates.

Last November, the Russian parliament passed a draconian law banning “LGBT propaganda”, criminalizing the promotion of homosexuality in public and online, including through books, films and advertisements. Behind the proposal, as clarified by Khinshtein who drafted the bill, there was the desire to block ‘A summer with a pioneer handkerchief’ and similar books.

Khinshtein himself he wrote on the Telegram messaging app, to hope that Popocorn Books, which allegedly openly challenged the state, “gets what it deserves” because the publishing house is one of the flagships of the promotion of LGBT literature in Russia. According to the MP, Popcorn Books “not only continued to sell similar books, but defiantly began to publish on the covers quotes from Article 29 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and a ban on censorship”.

Popcorn Books is no stranger to threats and interventions by the Russian authorities. At the end of October, the Kremlin added Alexey Dokuchaev and Andrey Baev to its blacklist, the founders of the publishing house who were forced to distance themselves to prevent their creation from being counted among foreign agents.

Last year the Duma deputy Nina Ostanina invited the Russian communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, to open a criminal case against Popcorn Books and the authors of A summer with a pioneer handkerchiefbut the agency found no reason to go ahead with the request.

(Popcorn Books preview image via The Moscow Times)

In Russia the first criminal case for the violation of the new law against ‘LGBT propaganda’