Ukraine prepares to ban ‘anti-Ukrainian’ Russian books – The Guardian

Ukraine is looking at introducing a new law that would see all books imported from Russia checked for “anti-Ukrainian” content, and banned if they include it.

The draft law, which proposes “to restrict access to the Ukrainian market of foreign printed material with anti-Ukrainian content”, was adopted earlier this month by Ukraine’s cabinet of ministers, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported.

The bill proposes that books would be assessed by an “expert council” for “popularisation 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 territory”, according to the human rights group. Ukraine’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 Committee’s ban in 2015 of 38 books published in Russia, aimed at “safeguarding Ukrainian citizens against the use of information warfare and disinformation methods, against the spread of hate ideology, fascism, xenophobia and separatism”.

In her report about the new law, Halya Coynash from the Kharkiv human rights group said that “measures are undoubtedly needed to counter the lies told, especially in areas within or close to territory under Russian occupation or Kremlin-backed militant control”, but added that “it is not clear that this law, nor previous legislative initiatives achieve that aim, while being guaranteed to elicit accusations that Ukraine is introducing censorship”.

“Any ban needs to be seen in context. I do think it’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,” Coynash told the Guardian.

While she welcomed the fact the bill is specifically about Russia – “it 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 Crimea” – she questioned its reach, given that it covers only printed matter, and the “woolliness” of its language.

“There 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 doesn’t exist or has no right to,” she said, citing writing by Alexander Dugin, who called for a “genocide” of Ukrainians in 2014 and Putin’s adviser Sergei Glazyev, as cause for concern.

Coynash warned that while the bill specifically targets those mass-importing books for sale – individuals still able to bring up to 10 copies into Ukraine without restrictions – it is likely to be met with accusations of censorship. “Banning a few offensive books seems rather more symbolic, in my opinion, and possibly counterproductive – [bringing] cries of censorship balanced against extremely modest results,” she said. “Whether or not it works the aim has nothing to do with censorship.”

British Ukrainian translator Steve Komarnyckyj, meanwhile, believes the ban is likely to be unworkable.

“I believe there is a case for banning deliberately misleading material which can be shown to be factually incorrect,” 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 Shynkarenko’s novel Kaharlyk, which was written on Facebook during the Maidan protests, said he believes such a ban would be “open to corruption and ineffective”.

“Most 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 Putin’s methods and agenda. Let Dugin’s work be published and exposed – most Ukrainians are intelligent enough to laugh at him and his fellow authors,” he said. “Show that Ukraine champions free speech in the harshest circumstances.”

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