Kremlin acts to stem tide of porn, beer and thong ads

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The Independent Online

Moscow's increasingly conservative city fathers have had enough - of sex, bare flesh and profanity. Fourteen years after the Soviet Union collapsed along with its stuffy moral precepts, Russian politicians have decided that the country's fabled liberality has gone too far.

Moscow's increasingly conservative city fathers have had enough - of sex, bare flesh and profanity. Fourteen years after the Soviet Union collapsed along with its stuffy moral precepts, Russian politicians have decided that the country's fabled liberality has gone too far.

Across the country calls for a renaissance of Soviet-style puritanism and a return to moral order are being voiced with increasing frequency.

Moscow's deputies believe the remedy lies in a law that would ban advertisements featuring "swear words, genitals and filthy gestures and poses". Once a drab, neon-free, asexual zone, Moscow itself has metamorphosed into a city where anything goes. Sex is shoved in your face: billboards featuring soft lesbian scenes stare down on dusty Communist-era statues, adverts for female thongs leave almost nothing to the imagination and sexual double entendres are used to sell anything from cars to phones.

Deprived of commercialism for years, Russia embraced the old adage that "sex sells" with gusto. To add insult to moral injury, strip clubs/brothels line many of the city's main avenues, hardcore pornography DVDs are on sale at most of the city's metro stations and sex shops sit cheek by jowl with schools. Young people who have only vague memories of Soviet-style morality, where sex was rarely referred to in public, don't bat an eyelid. But older Russians find it distasteful and are deciding that democracy and capitalism do not have to go hand in hand with in-your-face sex.

After one Muscovite complained that she had caught her five-year-old grandson watching a porn video he had bought from a sex shop near his school, a law drafted by Moscow deputy Ludmila Stebenkova will ban sex shops from residential areas, markets, airports, railway stations and from within 500m of cemeteries, schools, theatres and hospitals.

The battle for the purity of people's souls is also being waged on TV. Nationally, lawmakers are trying to ban the broadcast of images of an extreme sexual nature between seven in the morning and 10 at night. Depictions of rape or acts of a violent sexual nature would be outlawed outside the watershed.

For the authorities, efforts to promote clean living and high moral standards often go hand in hand with patriotism. A new "military-patriotic" channel called Zvezda aired in Moscow for the first time recently with the backing of the Defence Ministry. The Russian Orthodox Church is also doing its bit. It is in the process of setting up a nationwide channel to promote "Christian morality" and oppose "the cult of consumption and pleasure".

Church leaders say TV ads should not promote sex, alcohol or cigarettes. The government has fallen into line. Beer ads have been banned from radio and TV during the watershed, drinking is to be prohibited in a welter of public places and children under the age of 18 have finally been banned from buying beer, traditionally considered a soft drink in Russia.

Underlying the church's moral fervour is a deeper concern, which the government shares. Because of the media "sowing the seeds of licentiousness, selfishness, the cult of comfort and freedom from morality," says Patriarch Alexei II, "an increasing number of married couples do not have children at all."

Indeed the Kremlin is said to be worried that people are becoming too fond of the single, commitment-free, promiscuous lifestyle at the expense of Russia's birth rate. The current average birth rate is 1.25 children per woman. A rate of 2.13 needs to be attained if existing population levels are to be maintained - something that is regarded as vital for Russian national security.

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