A classic graphic novel famous for its allegorical depiction of the horrors of Nazism has vanished from bookshelves in Russia — over fears that the swastika on its cover could be glorifying Nazism.
Employees at several stores told a reporter for Ekho Moskvy radio that they were worried they would fall afoul of police raids ahead of May 9, when Russia is planning grandiose celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
City officials said last week that they would search Moscow's shops for goods bearing swastikas and "other extremist symbols" under a law banning "fascist propaganda," which Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last year. Putin has used the specter of Nazism to drum up support for Russia's annexation of Crimea, which he said was in response to a nationalist resurgence in Ukraine, and unacknowledged military intervention in the country's east.
The hunt for Nazis has already stretched into places where ordinary Russians might least suspect a creeping fascist resurgence. Moscow's largest children's store is now facing criminal charges for selling World War II-themed toys that featured soldiers in German uniform, while officials in the city of Bryansk shut down an exhibition of photos depicting life there under Nazi occupation during the war after complaints that the children in the photos were smiling too much.
The mayor of a Moscow suburb vowed to "punish the guilty" on Friday after the town accidentally used a photo of Luftwaffe pilots in a commemorative billboard, the TASS state newswire reported.
Ironically, the search for swastikas has hit one of the best known and most eloquent anti-Nazi works in modern literature. Maus, based on Spiegelman's father's experiences as a Holocaust survivor, tells the story of World War II through animal metaphors, with Jews depicted as mice and Germans as cats. The book has been translated into several dozen languages and was first published in Russia in 2013.
"There is no Nazi propaganda in it, this is a book that should be on the shelves on Victory Day," Varvara Gornostayeva, the book's Russian publisher, told AFP. ""It's one of [the] greatest anti-fascist books, with a deep and piercing message."
Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, suggested that the anti-Nazi campaign had gone slightly too far. "I don't have a clear position on this. But obviously everything needs to be within measure," he told reporters.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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