For the first time ever, a court in Russia this week employed a law against the use of obscenities to the criticism and description of government bodies, public officials, and state symbols, The New York Times reports. Officials fined a small-town, unemployed carpenter, one of the countless Russians espousing foul language on the internet, for calling President Vladimir V. Putin the vulgar Russian equivalent for “dimwit.”
Given the vast use of vulgar language in political contexts among Russians on social media, the law may appear ineffective. But it reflects a concerted effort by the Russian government to censor new forms of news and commentary in the digital era. And unlike states like China, Russia has allowed, with some exceptions, complete access to both Russian and Western social media platforms, offering opportunities for political discussions that sometimes contain foul language.
But the latest law in a string of attempts to prohibit ill-defined areas of content was the one forbidding “obscene or demeaning” of government officials, which was implemented in March. A northwestern Russian court located in the Novgorod region issued the first known application of the law on Tuesday, fining Yuri D. Kartyzhev $470 for vulgarly calling Putin a dimwit.
In a telephone interview, Kartyzhev did not back down from his comment, saying that there was no other word to describe him.
“What can I do? This is what I call him,” he said, speaking of President Putin. He continued to use more vulgarities to talk about the Russian economy and political situation.
“He tricked the Russian people. He is obliged to observe the laws and respect us, but the factories are closed, the cows are dead and so why should I be gracious?” he said.