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17.01.2018 | Halya Coynash

Ukraine imposes baffling ban on work by renowned English historian & others

Anthony Beavor’s ’Stalingrad’ translated into Russian
   

Ukraine’s State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee has announced a ban on the import into Ukraine of 25 books published in Russia.  The list is so baffling that one might suspect the reports were fake news aimed at discrediting Ukraine had the announcement not been posted on the Committee’s official website.

The site provides a ‘List of printed material originating from, published in or imported from the territory of an aggressor state … whose import the State Committee has banned on the basis of a negative assessment by a State Committee expert council as not permitted to be circulated in Ukraine’.   The large number of words in the title of the list do not provide insight as to why the books have been banned, which is especially frustrating given some of the books on the list.

Perhaps most startling is Sir Anthony Beavor’s award-winning book ‘Stalingrad’ – a narrative history of the Battle of Stalingrad which was pivotal in bringing about the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.  The publication banned from being imported is published by Makaon Ukraine, a publishing house with a Ukrainian address, though the book itself is listed as being from Russia.   Why the ‘expert council’ found that this book should not be imported is not explained.  The ban appears to be only on this specific publication of the book in Russia, though whether that is deliberate or simply because the illustrious experts did not notice that it is a British book, translated into Russian, is also not clear.

Two parts of a History of the Russian State by Boris Akunin have been banned, as has a book by historian Boris Sokolov entitled ‘To My Matilda: love letters and diaries of Nikolai II’.   The latter ban might not displease the Russian Orthodox hardliners in Russia who tried to prevent the showing last year of a film about the affair between ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya and the future Tsar of the Russian Empire, whom the Russian Orthodox Church has declared a saint.  Such restrictions on historical works written by men who have never demonstrated any anti-Ukrainian sentiments are disturbing.  There are other such books, including diaries by figures in history, which may well be there only because at some point in the distant part their authors were dismissive of Ukraine.  There are also some children’s books, including a picture book on learning how to read Russian properly.  It is possible that the latter was added because it treats Crimea as ‘Russian’, not illegally occupied by Russia, but explanation would be helpful.  

Only a few of the books, such as an interview with Vsevolod Chaplin, a former high-ranking figure in the Russian Orthodox Church and strong supporter of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, seem to correspond with the original objective of a law passed in December 2016 on banning the import into Ukraine of books from Russia or occupied Ukrainian territory of an aggressively anti-Ukrainian nature.

Draft bill №5114 was signed into law on 30.12.2016.  It introduced amendments to legislation aimed at “restricting access to the Ukrainian market of foreign printed material with anti-Ukrainian content’.   The law imposes a permit system for import of printed material from an aggressor state or from Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Russia or Kremlin-backed militants.  There is no restriction on individuals bringing up to 10 copies of a book into Ukraine, and the law applies exclusively to countries identified as aggressor states.  At present this applies only to Russia, as per a parliamentary resolution from January 2015. 

While there are already bans on printed material which calls for the violent overthrow of the government, incites enmity, etc, the new law introduced a new, and dangerously broad, category, namely: “popularisation or propaganda of an aggressor state and its executive bodies, and representatives of these bodies and their particular actions which create a positive image of the aggressor state, justify or declare as legitimate occupation of Ukrainian territory”.

The law states that assessments of printed material will be made by an ‘expert council’ made up of “representatives of executive bodies, branch associations, unions, the civic expert community, publishers, prominent cultural, artistic, scientific and educational figures, social psychologists, media experts and other specialists in the information sphere”.   

There was no information then or now on how the members of this council are selected, and what mechanisms of accountability are envisaged.  The council seems entirely anonymous.  The law also mentions that cancellation of a permit can be challenged by the court, but does not say whether the refusal to grant a permit can be appealed. 

The law promised that criteria for such negative assessments would be drawn up “in accordance with the requirements of this Law”.  If they were, it would be helpful if these could be published, since they are bafflingly difficult to find – or, given this latest list, understand.

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