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April 30, 2017

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Kremlin bans obscenities, Russians protest cussedly

MOSCOW -- Russians have endured countless crackdowns on their freedoms, but a legal ban on using their vast vocabulary of swear words has really got them hot under the collar.

This month's law against swearing in films, theater and the media has propelled the controversial subject to the forefront of public debate and brought together critics and loyalists of President Vladimir Putin.

At the heart of the discourse is Russia's hugely potent lexicon of obscenities known as "mat," which is centered on four taboo words and an infinite number of their variations.

Describing female and male private parts and sexual intercourse, the words sound more offensive than their English-language equivalents, are considered unprintable and usually bleeped on TV.

Supporters say the ban will help protect the purity of the language and family values.

The measure comes amid the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as government calls to protect the Russian language in conflict-torn Ukraine.

But critics say the ban is the latest in a line of clampdowns on freedoms and accused the parliament of hypocrisy since the country's top leadership is believed to resort to curse words in private.

Contemporary novelist Viktor Yerofeyev ridiculed an attempt to impose a "moral monopoly" on words, saying the ban has breathed new life into Russian mat.

"It won! The State Duma has officially recognized it to be a real threat, the adversary, the enemy, the foe of Russian civilization, a cancerous tumor on Russian culture," he declared in a column for Snob magazine.

"It has reached the unattainable heights of an enemy of the people: like the name of Trotsky in the Soviet Union, it cannot be mentioned publicly."

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