Moscow
MIN -16
MAX -12
Mostly Cloudy / 05:17 PM / Traffic

Irkutsk Says No to Porn, Prostitution

People have had enough. Claiming to be bombarded on all sides by dirty lyrics and images of naked women, outraged citizens of the country's heartland have decided to take a stand.

Only this is not the American Bible Belt. This is Siberia.

The city of Irkutsk is the latest to decide to put together a morality watchdog group that will -- in the words of city lawmakers -- protect children and teenagers from prostitution, pornography, movies filled with sex and violence and even the St. Petersburg male ballet and flamboyant pop star Boris Moiseyev.

"After Moscow and St. Petersburg, Irkutsk is probably the third city in terms of being corrupt," said Filipp Makarov, co-author of a petition to the Irkutsk City Duma that led it to approve the creation of a morals committee.

The petition, signed by 700 residents, warns of "raging immorality, vulgarity and cynicism" in the eastern Siberian city, which has a population of about 650,000.

"After discussing the appeal, all 15 City Duma deputies considered the problem grave and declared it necessary to establish the committee for protecting morality," City Duma Deputy Mikhail Kornev, the other author of the petition, said in a telephone interview.

The committee will be up and running by the end of this month, Kornev said Wednesday.

Although Kornev said the City Duma approved the committee, it appeared that not all political parties agreed with him on why, or even if, it was necessary.

Vitaly Kamyshev, head of the Irkutsk regional branch of the liberal Yabloko party, said Kornev was an "extreme radical nationalist" with his own agenda.

"This is not a struggle for morality," Kamyshev said. "The fight for morality is just an excuse for them to attack their rivals, that is, Western influence and liberal ideology. This is simply a case of a political and religious fight."

The petition decries what concerned residents see as a lack of moral fiber in the city.

"Multiple vendors, kiosks and stores sell pornographic newspapers and magazines with literally satanic contents," the petition reads.

It continues: "TV increasingly airs cheap Western and some Moscow films full with scenes of violence, sex, cruelty, cooperation with evil forces, corruptibility, greed, lust, hate and contempt for one's country and praise for the pro-American dog-eat-dog lifestyle.

"The atmosphere of many night clubs, discos and other entertainment events is frankly depraved. Drinking, drugs, sex and frank obscenities are encouraged."

Makarov, who collected the signatures for the petition, said most of the people who signed were 20 to 40 years old. He describes himself as a supporter of Kornev's party, Regional Patriotic Unity of Youth, and a member of the Orthodox Church.

The committee is to consist of 15 people, among them six City Duma deputies and representatives of local public and cultural groups such as teachers, doctors, lawyers and representatives of the Orthodox Church. It will be responsible only for the city of Irkutsk, not the whole region.

Among the committee's tasks will be to crack down on the sale of pornographic publications near schools and kindergartens and limit prostitution advertisements in the local media.

The committee will also handle people's complaints and work toward enacting a local law on morals. The next step will be to formulate a proposal for the State Duma on introducing a federal law for protecting morality, Kornev said.

Special expert councils will be set up to review newspapers, magazines and other publications and make recommendations as to whether their sales should be restricted in Irkutsk, he said.

As examples of pornographic publications that should be limited in sales, the committee organizers cited the Intim magazine, the Vne Zakona magazine, the Zholtaya Gazeta newspaper and Speed-Info, a monthly sports and leisure newspaper with a circulation of more than 3.5 million.

Vyacheslav Nedogonov, deputy editor at the S-Info publishing house that publishes Speed-Info, said the newspaper, which prints photographs of scantily clad women, was not breaking any laws.

"According to the law, Speed-Info is neither an erotic nor pornographic newspaper," he said. "The newspaper is registered as a popular scientific publication. Perhaps some regional authorities have their own view about it, but one should abide by the law."

The petition also calls for a ban on performers such as Valery Mikhailovsky's St. Petersburg male ballet and Moiseyev, referring to them as "sick people."

Kornev said the committee is planning no protests against any performances but will not hesitate to voice its attitude toward them.

"Under the law, we have no right to impose any bans, [but] by creating the committee, we aim to have a say and show our opinion on the matter," he said.

Moiseyev described the moves as "hypocrisy and showing a morbid imagination."

"These people do not accept the art and culture of their country," he said in a telephone interview. "It is very sad. I feel sad for people who infringe upon the personality and self-expression of the performer."

Similar committees and laws for protecting morals already operate in the Siberian regions of Altai and Krasnoyarsk.

The Altai morals committee, set up in 1999, is the only body in Altai that is officially approached by prosecutors during criminal cases for expert advice on "products of erotic and pornographic nature," said committee head Nina Danilova.

The committee has so far targeted the moral education of school students, reviewed contents of children's and teens' magazines and advertisements in local newspapers, she said. It has also supervised compliance by local vendors with the local law on morals.

"Under our law, kiosks have no right to display products with erotic contents in their shop windows for everyone to see. They can sell it, but not display it," Danilova said. "We warned the sellers about this responsibility: In some cases there are fines and some cases go to court."

The committee has initiated two criminal cases, Danilova said. In the first case, 21 videos were confiscated from a local vendor who distributed pornographic videos. The other case focused on pornographic photos being distributed via the Internet.

Back in Irkutsk, Yabloko's Kamyshev conceded that there were social problems that needed to be addressed in the city -- particularly the widespread publishing of prostitution advertisements -- but said more thought was needed about how to tackle them.

"The idea [of a morals committee] requires more detailed discussion and definition," he said. "Problems do exist, but this approach may turn out to be a threat to morality and peace within our society."

From the Web

Dear reader,

Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate.

It is with regret, therefore, that we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles.

The Moscow Times remains committed to the principle of public debate and hopes to welcome you to a new, constructive forum in the future.

Regards,

The Moscow Times