Ukraine is looking at introducing a new law that would see all books imported from Russia checked for â€œanti-Ukrainianâ€ content, and banned if they include it.
The draft law, which proposes â€œto restrict access to the Ukrainian market of foreign printed material with anti-Ukrainian contentâ€, was adopted earlier this month by Ukraineâ€™s cabinet of ministers, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported.
The bill proposes that books would be assessed by an â€œexpert councilâ€ for â€œpopularisation or propaganda of bodies of an aggressor state and their particular actions which create a positive image of the employees of the aggressor state, employees of Soviet state security bodies, justify or declare as legitimate occupation of Ukrainian territoryâ€, according to the human rights group. Ukraineâ€™s deputy minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko has spoken of his confidence that the law will be passed by the end of the year.
It follows the Ukrainian State Television and Radio Committeeâ€™s ban in 2015 of 38 books published in Russia, aimed at â€œsafeguarding Ukrainian citizens against the use of information warfare and disinformation methods, against the spread of hate ideology, fascism, xenophobia and separatismâ€.
In her report about the new law, Halya Coynash from the Kharkiv human rights group said that â€œmeasures are undoubtedly needed to counter the lies told, especially in areas within or close to territory under Russian occupation or Kremlin-backed militant controlâ€, but added that â€œit is not clear that this law, nor previous legislative initiatives achieve that aim, while being guaranteed to elicit accusations that Ukraine is introducing censorshipâ€.
â€œAny ban needs to be seen in context. I do think itâ€™s a bad move, and ultimately rather meaningless. But the lies and propaganda coming from Russia, particularly since Euromaidan and its invasion of Crimea, have been toxic and overwhelming,â€ Coynash told the Guardian.
While she welcomed the fact the bill is specifically about Russia â€“ â€œit does not cover books published, for example, in the UK, which criticise Ukraine, nor does it apply to books published in Ukraine, with the exception of Russian-occupied Crimeaâ€ â€“ she questioned its reach, given that it covers only printed matter, and the â€œwoollinessâ€ of its language.
â€œThere does, however, seem a valid aim, namely to combat a situation where a country waging covert war against Ukraine is also quite legally selling books in which the ideologues and fighters in that war present their distorted explanation of why Ukraine either doesnâ€™t exist or has no right to,â€ she said, citing writing by Alexander Dugin, who called for a â€œgenocideâ€ of Ukrainians in 2014 and Putinâ€™s adviser Sergei Glazyev, as cause for concern.
Coynash warned that while the bill specifically targets those mass-importing books for sale â€“ individuals still able to bring up to 10 copies into Ukraine without restrictions â€“ it is likely to be met with accusations of censorship. â€œBanning a few offensive books seems rather more symbolic, in my opinion, and possibly counterproductive â€“ [bringing] cries of censorship balanced against extremely modest results,â€ she said. â€œWhether or not it works the aim has nothing to do with censorship.â€
British Ukrainian translator Steve Komarnyckyj, meanwhile, believes the ban is likely to be unworkable.
â€œI believe there is a case for banning deliberately misleading material which can be shown to be factually incorrect,â€ he said, referring to news stories that relied on fake data, such as the story that ran in Russian media saying a civilian plane was brought down by a Ukrainian aircraft, when investigations have since been proved it was destroyed by a Buk missile brought in from Russia.
But Komarnyckyj, who recently translated into English Oleh Shynkarenkoâ€™s novel Kaharlyk, which was written on Facebook during the Maidan protests, said he believes such a ban would be â€œopen to corruption and ineffectiveâ€.
â€œMost Ukrainian and Russian books are available on the internet (there is a huge piracy problem) so a ban is probably unworkable. What Ukraine should do is expose media fakes and expose the lamentable work of authors such as Dugin and expose Putinâ€™s methods and agenda. Let Duginâ€™s work be published and exposed â€“ most Ukrainians are intelligent enough to laugh at him and his fellow authors,â€ he said. â€œShow that Ukraine champions free speech in the harshest circumstances.â€