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How Pushkin Without Pants caused a stir, or a Brief History of Censorship in Russia
How Pushkin Without Pants caused a stir, or a Brief History of Censorship in Russia

In the winter of 2021, swearing was banned on social networks, that is, they began to block for its use (it was legally banned earlier). No previous manifestation of social media censorship has caused so much excitement among Russian users. But, looking into history, we have to admit that Russians are no stranger to censorship.

It is believed that censorship in a more or less modern sense was introduced in Russia by Peter I. He personally checked what was written about him, and forbade a lot of it - after all, those who disliked reforms spread rumors about him that he was replaced in his youth abroad, or even that he is the Antichrist himself.

However, the stream of essays became more and more plentiful, and Peter had less and less time to read. So he resolved the issue radically: he forbade the monks to write, except in the presence of special sovereign people. After all, already from the rhetoric about the Antichrist, it was clear that basically the texts were produced in monasteries - places where there were the most literate people. There has not yet been a stricter censorship of Peter in the history of Russia.

Portrait by Nicolas Frosté

In addition to Peter, Paul I, Nicholas I, Stalin and Andropov became famous in history for strict censorship. And the most liberal in this respect were the sovereigns Alexander I and Alexander II (both, interestingly, have the nickname "The Liberator") and the first president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin. Under Yeltsin, censorship was given a precise legal definition in order to legally prohibit it. The ban on censorship was written into the Constitution of the Russian Federation - the law that prevails over all others.

And the most controversial in terms of censorship was Catherine II. Everyone knew that she corresponded with free-thinking humanists and praised authors such as Voltaire and Rousseau. Under her, non-state printing houses were opened, where anyone could publish their own magazine or book.

And she, having discovered that it was possible to buy Rousseau and other authors with liberal ideas in bookstores, flew into a rage and called them anti-Russian writers, for whom there could be no place in the country. And who took advantage of the absence of censorship, Radishchev, who published the satirical work "A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow", was sentenced to death, which she graciously replaced with a ten-year exile.

Ekaterina Alekseevna wanted both the image of a progressive empress and strong power

In the end, she created a unified network of censorship for publications and theaters, thus establishing a system of censorship that worked both under the Russian Empire and under the USSR. Since then, only books, magazines, plays, films, paintings and photographs have not been censored!

For cruelty

Nowadays in Russia it is legally prescribed what level of cruelty can be available to children of different ages. Two hundred years ago, it was entirely up to the censors to define a book as suitable or not suitable for children. It is believed that for the first time censorship tried to protect children from cruelty under Paul I, when a children's book, graphically describing a bullfight, was not allowed to print. It is surprising that this happened at a time when children's books were popular throughout Europe, describing terrible events in the life and hellish death throes of children who deceived adults, were greedy, lazy and suffered from other childhood sins.

For mentioning censorship

In the Soviet special depositories, a manual on censorship during the war, published during the Great Patriotic War, which was very useful for Soviet censors, was gathering dust for a long time.The whole problem of the publication was precisely in the mention of censorship, and right on the cover. In the USSR, any mention of Soviet censorship was censored, because here you are not tsarist, no one is strangling freedom of speech.

Pre-revolutionary caricature on the topic of censorship

For a wrong death

As you know, the same photographs of Stalin, in the same places, circumstances and at the same moment, differ in the number of participants in them. There are photographs where he is with five or four companions, or with only two, or with one, or even in splendid isolation. No sci-fi theories like alternative turns of history are required: for censorship reasons, Stalin's former associates, arrested and, as a rule, sentenced to death were removed from the photographs with Stalin with the help of retouching.

It was not limited to photo retouching. Instructions were sent to the libraries about which texts should be seized and destroyed, as well as special inserts with which it was necessary to cover pages with references to more objectionable old Bolsheviks (for example, in encyclopedias and reference books) and even, according to rumors, retouched and printed photographs in order to glue them on top of the old ones.

It is interesting that not all texts and films not passed by the censorship in the USSR were destroyed. Copies of many were kept in special storage facilities, where it was impossible to get there without a special pass. Either for study, or in case of a radical change in political course - so that the new censorship does not leave the current period completely without books and films.

Metamorphoses of a group portrait with Stalin

For a suspicious feminitive

The censorship did not allow the poem of the famous eighteenth-century poet Trediakovsky to be published because of the word "empress", which he used to designate the current ruler of Russia. Moreover, he was summoned to explain himself to the secret office - what, they say, for lack of feeling for a royal person? Indeed, in the Russian language, as - if the word is rechecked, it means that they are teased.

Trediakovsky had to explain that he did not distort any words, but used an ancient Roman term, just as respectful as the modern word "empress". It is possible that during the explanation he regretted not calling Anna Ioannovna a woman emperor. True, this did not fit into the poetic meter, but so much the worse for the size.

For inciting hatred of a social group

It seems to many that the ban on negative reviews about representatives of a particular profession is an invention of our time. But he was already acting during the time of Emperor Alexander II. True, it was called "to incite hostility and hatred of one estate in the state towards another."

The Soviet censorship did not miss dubious passages in the direction of various professions. It was formulated something like this: "In what form do you represent our Soviet (scientists, doctors, policemen, write in the necessary)?" For example, under the threat of being denied access to Soviet screens, the film "Big Change" was filmed. If the image of the teachers seemed not plausible enough to the censorship, the film would have gone “on the shelf”.

A comedy about school teachers might never have met the audience

For disrespecting the opinion of the king

Under Nicholas I, the claims of censors to works of art were sometimes completely caricatured. For example, the censor's review of a love poem was preserved with the words: “What is in people's opinion? One of your tender glances is dearer to me than the attention of the entire universe. " Obviously in indignation, the official wrote a remark to the poem: “Strongly said; besides, there are kings and legitimate authorities in the universe, whose attention should be cherished …"

For wrong iconography

Not only in religion are they very picky about how they portrayed this or that saint - whether the posture, clothing, hairstyle and attributes are necessary. In the atheistic Soviet era, the approach was transferred both to a number of communists and to the past approved and exalted by the authorities.

So, in the thirties, the artist Pyotr Konchalovsky painted a picture based on the personal memories of Pushkin.On the canvas, as in the poet's notes, Alexander Sergeevich composes right in bed, in his nightgown. The bare feet of the sun of Russian poetry did not pass the censorship. Although, thanks to the pose, nothing seditious in the picture can be discerned, the very fact that the poet was portrayed without pants was considered unacceptable by the censors. Konchalovsky had to create another version, also without pants, but with a blanket on his knees, making it possible to imagine that there are still pants underneath.

Pushkin without pants Pushkin is not so without pants

For racial, ethnic and religious political incorrectness

A big episode was almost cut from the film "Operation Y and Other Adventures of Shurik", where a bully at a construction site turns out to be painted black and runs in a kind of loincloth and with a kind of spear in his hand behind the main character. According to the censors, the episode looked extremely racist. In the end, the filmmakers managed to convince that, of course, they were not real blacks - the episode only refers to the bourgeois cliché, which can be seen in "Tom and Jerry". No wonder this cliché was pulled over a negative character …

In Soviet times, many foreign books were also published in a form heavily cleaned up from attacks on ethnic groups. So, readers of the Soviet "Carmen" do not even imagine what anti-Roma attacks the author allowed himself in his native language. Anti-Semitic passages that were not found in Soviet publications were removed from Jeffrey Chaucer's writings. The number of emphasis on the gypsy origin of the sadist Heathcliff in the Soviet translations of Wuthering Heights has been reduced.

And one of Pushkin's works was demanded to be censored during his lifetime. Monk Filaret wrote a letter to the chief censor of the Empire, Benckendorff, indicating that in Onegin the image of the church was belittled by the line “and a flock of jackdaws on the crosses”. Having considered the complaint, Benckendorff came to the conclusion that the poet was not to blame - what he saw was what he described, but the chief police chief of the city, who had to drive jackdaws, so that the churches had a decent look, was to blame.

However, censorship has never been an exclusively Russian phenomenon: How in the Sistine Chapel other cases of strange censorship in the history of art were painted over with shame.

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