Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Porn Case Distracts Moscow Mafia Police

One reason that the city police are having such a hard time coping with the mafia may be because the organized crime division is too busy protecting the population from sex.


"We deal with all kinds of criminal activity here," said Konstantin Kundelyev, deputy section head in the division of the city police that combats organized crime.


The "criminal activity" in question is the long-standing case of Alexei Kostin, publisher of the erotic journal Yeshcho, who has been in prison for nine months on charges of distributing pornography. Kundeleyev's section is running the investigation of Kostin's case.


"No, the case has no connection to organized crime," he said impatiently. "It is an experiment. Maybe, as they say in Russian, our first pancake will be a mess."


The experiment is a difficult one for Kostin. The publisher has not yet come to trial; he has been convicted of nothing. But the courts have rejected all petitions to let Kostin, who has recently had major surgery for stomach ulcers, out of prison.


"There must be reasons," said Kundelyev. "If he's still in jail, then it's because the law requires it."


The "reasons," Yeshcho's defenders insist, have little to do with pornography and a lot to do with politics.


"There is no doubt that Yeshcho was a thorn in the side of someone powerful," said Vladimir Linderman, the paper's editor. He cites other erotic publications, such as Spid-Info, with a circulation of almost 4 million, which have had no trouble with the authorities.


Why the furor over Yeshcho, a small paper with a circulation of 75,000?


"I have always had problems with the government," said Linderman, who lives in Riga. "I used to publish a political journal, Atmoda, agitating for Latvian independence."


Linderman was on the lookout for something new, he found some like-minded colleagues, and Yeshcho was born. "We wanted a good product, something worthwhile both from a journalistic and literary standpoint. "


Yeshcho does have literary pretensions. It has published the works of such well-known writers as Eduard Limonov, and Yaroslav Mogutin. Its irreverent tone can be shocking, and it would never be accused of an excess of taste.


According to writer Zufar Gareyev, it is the first "postmodernist" erotic journal -- one which seeks to throw out old strictures, to educate and to liberate. It was, in fact, in Gareyev's apartment that Kostin was detained on Oct. 6, 1993.


The moment was not without humor, Gareyev recalls: "I asked the investigator what he had against Yeshcho, and he said 'I am against the sex act in general.' He was 28 years old, married, with a child. It's so absurd."


The whole matter has become increasingly Kafkaesque since Kostin's detention. The publisher was released within three days, but criminal charges were filed against him.


No attempt was made to close the paper. The now-defunct Ministry of Press and Information, which granted licenses to new publications, had no quarrel with Yeshcho.


"There has been no formal ban," said Leonid Prudovsky, spokesman for the Committee on the Press, which is heir to the ministry. "They have not broken any laws on the press."


Kostin, after obtaining a document from the Press Ministry that Yeshcho had not been banned, resumed publication. It was this, according to police officials, which led to his arrest on Feb. 4. He has been in Butyrka prison ever since and the paper has ceased printing.


Gareyev was detained in May, and held for three days. He, like Kostin, has been charged under the outdated Article 228, which was introduced into the Soviet criminal system in 1935.


The case hinges on the pronouncement of a panel of experts, who have ruled that Yeshcho is pornographic.


To add insult to injury, Yeshcho is being sued for 50 million rubles ($16,129) by Rospechat, the organization in charge of distributing subscription newspapers. The reason? Yeshcho has violated its agreement to supply Rospechat with copies of the paper to send to subscribers.