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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete Cracks Down on English Signs

ST. PETERSBURG -- For visiting tourists who do not speak Russian, finding a restaurant, bar, currency exchange booth or even a toilet on the streets of St. Petersburg could become far more difficult by the end of the year.

Thanks to a new City Hall crackdown, street signs and advertisements using common English words -- such as bar, cafe, restaurant, hotel, currency exchange, airport, train station and toilet -- will be illegal. The move applies even when the signs are simply translations of accompanying Russian text.

In a few scattered instances last week, city authorities accompanied by paramilitary OMON police began to unceremoniously tear down illegal signs. The businesses and organizations displaying the signs were fined heavily, plus charged for their removal and destruction.

City officials said they have already issued 163 citations and targeted another 20 unnamed businesses, all of which are expected to be issued citations within the next few days.

As a result, 18 signs have already been voluntarily dismantled by their owners, officials said. Nine other businesses have been compelled to hang Russian-only displays, while 136 violators have within one week to comply.

"Whatever a hotel or a business or any other [organization] does on its interior is its own business, but signs on the street can be in Russian only," said Vladimir Zhekanis, deputy director of the City Center for the Placement of Advertising. Registered trademarks such as Sony or Marlboro will be exempt from the law.

Sergei Prosvirin, another spokesman for the advertising center, said violators will also be charged for the transportation and storage of illegal signs -- in addition to fines starting at 1.6 million rubles ($280) and increasing in accordance with the size of the sign.

The law forbidding the use of foreign words on signs and advertisements has been law -- and ignored -- since 1995.

But a decree last week from Governor Vladimir Yakovlev breathed new life into the mandate, which follows closely a similar decree from Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

"We sort of expected something like this to happen in St. Petersburg after Luzhkov issued his decree," said Matthew Murray, chairman of the St. Petersburg International Business Association.

Prosvirin said the local law would not target signs featuring foreign words spelled out in Cyrillic characters "for the time being."

Zhekanis, however, backed off when questioned about such prestigious offenders as The Grand Hotel Europe -- the name of which appears in red, one-meter high letters on Nevsky Prospekt. City Hall owns 54 percent of the hotel's stock.

"We don't need to talk about [the Grand Hotel] for the time being," said Zhekanis.