Swastika
Swastika iStock

A new Russian law aimed at cracking down on book covers with swastikas and other Nazi symbols on them is causing booksellers to remove all books whose covers feature the offending symbols, even if they are anti-Nazi works.

A well known Russian book illustrator, Andrew Bondarenk, speaking to newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said that his proposed cover for Stephen Fry’s anti-Nazi book, How To Make History – about travelling back in time to stop Adolf Hitler’s birth – was rejected because of its depiction of a rat with a toothbrush moustache and a Nazi hat.

He said that it was explained to him that “these are Nazi symbols, according to the law, nothing like this can be depicted.”

In 2015, Russian bookstores began banning the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus because of the swastika on the cover. The novel, by Art Spiegelman, portrays the cartoonist interviewing his father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. It also uses allegory, depicting World War II by portraying Jews as mice, Germans as cats and Poles as pigs.

The new legislation’s changes, sent to booksellers by the Russian Book Union, also forbids books in which writers show equivalence between crimes of the Nazis and crimes of the Stalinist era, reported the European Jewish Congress.

The legal change is reportedly part of a campaign by the government to combat misrepresentations of the Soviet Union’s part in World War II.

“If there are some large, large images on the cover, then it is clear that such popularization, of course, is absolutely unnecessary and unacceptable by law,” spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Calvert Journal. “If we are talking about reference information, some images that are only on the inside of the book, and not on the cover, then this is another matter.”

Reportedly, the Ministries of Justice, Finance, and Culture will soon issue clarifications to the new regulations.

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