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Russia bans swear words in art, films

A hugely controversial Russian law banning curse words in films, theatre, the media and arts came into force on Tuesday, part of a Kremlin-backed drive to play up traditional values and root out swearing.

The legislation, wich was signed off by President Vladimir Putin in May, imposes hefty fines on offenders — up to 2,500 rubles ($72) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles ($1,460) for businesses.

Movies featuring obscenities will not be issued a distribution licence, while traders will now be obliged to warn consumers about swear words.

The legislation does not spell out what constitutes profanity but the law is widely seen to be targeting Russia’s hugely potent lingua franca of obscenities known as “mat”.

While critics say the targeted swear words are highly offensive to the Russian ear and their use should be curtailed, supporters say “mat” is an artform and can be instrumental in helping express extreme human conditions like pain or anger.

Many ridiculed the legislation, saying efforts to outlaw what essentially is an inalienable part of Russia’s culture will fail.

Some of Russia’s best-loved poets including Mikhail Lermontov and Alexander Pushkin are known for using swear words in their works.

Art-house director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s movie “Leviathan”, which won critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is among films that now face an uncertain future in Russia over their use of swear words.

Since returning to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012, Putin has sought to rally support from his middle-aged supporters and strengthen ties between society and the Orthodox Church.

The ban is the latest in a series of measures that seek to play up conservatives values and promote Russia as an antithesis to the West.