Exclave Moves to Ban Signs In English

The once-ubiquitous English-language "sale" signs in Russian store windows may soon disappear if the Kaliningrad region's interpretation of a federal law spreads to the rest of the country.

In recent years, local legislation in cities across the country has banned the use of foreign-language words in stores and on advertising billboards, but enforcement has been patchy at best.

The Kaliningrad Regional Prosecutor's Office this week served notice on the Yevropa shopping center in the city, telling store owners to take down their "sale" signs in English, citing complaints from passers-by.

"This is a blatant violation of the federal law on the official state language," Yelena Madyudya, an aide to the city's prosecutor, said Thursday, referring to the June 2005 law that forbids the use of foreign words or expressions when Russian equivalents are available.

Advertisements on buildings, billboards and shops should be in the Russian language, Madyudya said, adding that other stores would also be served notices demanding that the offending foreign word be removed.

Alexei Pribor, head of advertising at the Yevropa shopping center, said Thursday that the center had been selected because of its city-center location, but added, "Once the campaign starts, there is no end in sight."

"It is a good omen that our leaders have awoken to the fact that we are Russian and should live by Russian laws," Pribor said. "Displaying signs and symbols in Cyrillic is part and parcel of this feeling."

The center is now considering how best to display its sale signs without causing offense. "We may simply use the percent sign, which is noncommittal," Pribor said. "Or we could translate or transliterate for a better effect."

The crackdown in Kaliningrad appeared to be part of efforts to deflect criticisms that the exclave, surrounded on three sides by European Union countries, was being infiltrated by foreign linguistic and cultural influences.

Local legislation banning adverts in foreign languages exists in many big cities, but it is seldom invoked, an advertisement industry executive said.

"Local authorities appear to be waiting for an opportune time to enforce such measures," said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she did not want to have her company's name mentioned in the media.

Last year, a law was passed banning price listings in dollars, euros or standard units (which can be interpreted to mean dollars or euros, or an average of the two). A presidential decree broadened the scope of the law, obliging state officials to "desist from using foreign currencies to denote prices" of goods and services.