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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Investigate Pushkin 'Pornography'

Nearly 200 years after Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov secretly scribbled some erotic poems, their work still has the power to stir up strong feelings -- and criminal investigations.

Police raided the Knigomir bookstore in the city of Ivanovo last week following a complaint that a number of books were pornographic.

Among the books that police seized were copies of "Stikhi Dlya Vzroslykh," or "Poems for Adults," containing verses by Pushkin and Lermontov, and "Zapretniye Plody Razdumy i Poeticheskikh Fantasy," or "Forbidden Fruit of Thoughts and Poetic Fantasies," by Kozma Prutkov, a pseudonym used by a group of writers, including Alexei Tolstoy, known for satirical aphorisms such as "Wisdom is like turtle soup in that not everybody can get it."

Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into whether the bookstore was disseminating pornography, deputy regional prosecutor Nikolai Izyumtsev said.

The case is not the first controversy involving alleged pornography in recent years, and it highlights once again a lack of clarity in the law over what qualifies as erotic literature or pornography.

The raid in Ivanovo, some 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, followed a complaint by Vladimir Cherkashov, a poet and leader of the local branch of the small Russian United Industrialists Party.

"In every line of these poems there are only words that begin with the letters zh, b and kh," Cherkashov said, referring to the first letters of Russian swearwords, in an interview with the newspaper Gazeta.

"And in 'Russian Erotic Folklore,' all types of sex are illustrated: anal, group, sex with animals and even with dead bodies," he said. "I saw myself how teenagers opened the book and giggled."

Cherkashov said he did not believe that Pushkin wrote the poems in the books. "It is not his style," he said.

The seized books were part of a collection of erotic writings published under the imprint "Fallosoficheskiye Pamyatniki," or, roughly translated, "Phallic-osophy Classics." They include the work of Persian poet Omar Khayyam.

The criminal case was brought under Article 242 of the Criminal Code, concerning "disseminating pornographic material," with a conviction carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

A committee within the regional cultural department is now reviewing the books to decide whether they are erotic or pornographic.

Top-Kniga, which owns the bookstore, expressed bewilderment at the investigation. "We have two expert analyses that say the book series is erotica," company spokeswoman Larisa Rogozina said by e-mail. "If the Ivanovo regional prosecutor charges us ... we will defend our position in court."

An analysis from the Moscow Institute of Psychiatry found that the "use of drawings of adult men and women in a naked nature and scenes of a sexual character were part of the representation of a work of art," Rogozina said.

The other analysis came from the State Duma's adviser on sexology, Sergei Agarkov, who also declared that the books were not pornography, she said.

The bookstore has stopped offering the books in Ivanovo but continues to sell them in other towns.

The law states that pornography is a depiction of sexual acts without artistic merit, but a decision on what constitutes artistic merit is left up to local officials. This leads to decisions rooted in ignorance or politics, said Alexander Gavrilov, editor of Knizhnoye Obozreniye. "When barbarians take over, the first thing they do is look with horror at the statues of naked bodies in the main square of the empire," he said. "They are making decisions that show Russia is turning its back on its culture."

"There has to be complete clarity in the definition of erotica and pornography," Rogozina said. "Until that happens, we will depend on the level of education and the understanding of the law by this or that decision-maker."

Contemporary novelist Vladimir Sorokin was investigated in 2002 for his book "Goluboye Salo," which can be translated as "Blue Salo" or "Gay Salo" and includes a depiction of Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev having sex.