Russia’s Ministry of Justice has issued a bizarre new diktat barring prisoners from swearing while incarcerated at pre-trial detention centres.
The Moscow-based Inferfax news agency reported that a profanity-laden prison slang known as fenya is now prohibited, although it wasn’t clear what punishments convicts would face if they continued cursing.
The decree is in keeping with Vladimir Putin’s hatred for swearing, which last year saw him ban all profanity on Russian TV, film, theatre and newspapers. Those moves were widely interpreted as Putin’s attempt to encourage Russians to adopt family values influenced by Russian Orthodox Christianity.
The latest ban is not Putin’s first attempt to stamp out fenya. In 2013 prison guards were barred from using the decades-old criminal slang, which the Ministry of Justice described as being “threatening”, “insulting” and “defamatory”.
A 2002 report in The Moscow Times revealed how fenya had been in existence for at least several decades, although its origins remained a mystery.
“Fenya is the language of the camps and prisons. Developed over decades, it is made up of thousands of words and expressions that describe everything from a corpse [zhmurik] to a scam [kinut],” the report says.
“As the zeks [prisoners] left the zone, they took their language with them, and fenya has infiltrated standard Russian to the point that many speakers don't even know the unsavory derivations of the words they are using,” it adds.