Russian book-banners stay busy: Nabokov, Márquez, Bhagavad-Gita

Banned Books Week was recently celebrated in the US but the Russian Orthodox Church is choosing to mark the occasion with a somewhat different approach. Moscow Patriarchate PR director Vsevolod Chaplin stated that Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez should be banned because they “romanticize perverted passions that make people unhappy” he told the Interfax news agency, presumably referring to pedophilia rather than literary passions.

And while the cases of American school boards’ objecting to Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes (because of anti-Mormon sentiment in “A Study in Scarlet,” something which might make the book required reading in Rick Perry country) are worth protesting they are not quite on the same level as a national church potentially advocating a ban. A Kremlin envoy for cultural co-operation rejected Chaplin’s call for a ban, saying it would damage Russia’s image.

Other Russian writers were more blunt. “Nabokov and Márquez need no assessment from illiterate readers, especially those from the Russian Orthodox Church,” said writer and playwright Leonid Zorin. “The Church can’t censor literature, it is absurd.”

Novelist Boris Akunin recalled the previous trials over Lolita and how the results were never what the censors intended.

The whole affair reminded me of how vigilant this particular church PR director is in keeping an eye out for evil. Here is a quote of his from 2003:

“When people turn to evil forces by way of a joke, when they praise them and flirt with them, it reflects on the fate of the person, because it teaches him that evil is acceptable,” Chaplin said. “Walking with a demon in life can only lead one to tragedy, unhappiness and self-destruction.”

Walking with a demon – it sounds very sinister, so it is a bit of a letdown that he is talking about children trick-or-treating on Halloween. Still, I suppose we cannot let our guard down. The world is a dangerous place.

Unfortunately, Russian book-banning efforts are not confined to the 20th century classics. Prosecutors in the Siberian city of Tomsk are trying to ban the Bhagavad-Gita and the religious teaching it espouses as extremist. According to a report on Forum 18 an “expert analyses” placed before the Lenin District Court (apparently, the Stalin District Court was fully booked) said the book “contains signs of incitement of religious hatred and humiliation of an individual based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, origin or attitude to religion.”

This might seem like an ordinary case of religious or anti-religious zealotry. Wrong. In the hearings in August one of the “experts” admitted that he was approached by the FSB – Russia’s security service – in 2010 to carry out the “analysis.” This was well before the case even went to court. He then acknowledged that he did not really see anything terribly objectionable in the Hindu holy book, though he claimed some people might be offended by the word “pigs” (who? Sensitive policemen?).

In spite of all of this the case is ongoing, and others with it. Be careful book-banners, walking with a demon in life can only lead one to tragedy, unhappiness and self-destruction.

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Categories: Literary Controversy


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