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Experts call for hedging children from hazardous information

March 27, 2015, 19:32 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
A screenshot of "Karlsson-on-the-Roof" cartoon

A screenshot of "Karlsson-on-the-Roof" cartoon

© TASS screenshot

MOSCOW, March 27. /TASS/. It is important for the government to exercise reasonable control over the information that might be hazardous for children because their parents do not always cope with the task on their own, yet control should not be driven to the verge of absurdity, as it often happens with the actions of the functionaries who have the zeal to protect youngsters against absolutely anything and everything, even when it comes to the children's favorite books and movies.

A most recent instance of such prohibitions was made public virtually a couple of days ago. President Vladimir Putin's aide Vladimir Tolstoy said a range of books had been exempted from libraries in the Irkutsk region because they allegedly contained damaging information.

The list of titles included Astrid Lindgren's famed "Karlsson-on-the-Roof" (the regional bureaucrats found it denied family values and incited children to disregarding parents), Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (impelling to vagrancy), Andersen's "Thumbelina" (coercion to marriage), Russian folk tales including "Kolobok" ("The Little Bread Roll") that recounts the story of a little bread roll eventually eaten up by a fox (scenes of physical violence), and most notably, Alexander Pushkin's "Fairy Tale of the Golden Cockerel" (the scene where the cockerel kills Czar Dodon allegedly exposes the absence of mercy for the victim).

"This isn't a joke," Vladimir Tolstoy said at a roundtable conference in the State Duma. "I received an instruction of the Kachug district department of education that contains a list of hazardous books prohibited for circulation among children of all age groups under provisions of the Law on Protection of Children from the Information Causing Damage to Their Health and/or Development."

He said later on in an interview with the Moskovsky Komsomolets popular daily that the law was adopted in December 2010 and took legal effect on September 1, 2012. "And its practical implementation began in 2014."

Specifically, the authorities introduced several age categories marked as 6+, 12+, 16+, and 18+. "It was then that we started getting first letters from different parts of the country," Tolstoy said. "Now I'm getting letters where I read the situation not only hasn't improved a bit but on the contrary it is deteriorating because we have ever-growing lists of books declared undesirable for the kids younger than six, twelve or sixteen."

This is far from the first instance of bureaucratic zeal. Some people have campaigned in the past for banning the replica of Michelangelo's David, which is kept in the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow.

Debates have erupted on several occasions on whether or not it is proper to show the films where boys kiss girls on the cheek to adolescent audiences.

Public quarters and professionals made painful efforts to save from culling the iconic Soviet-era animated series "Nu, pogodi!" ('Well, Just You Wait!'), as one of the two protagonists there, the Wolf, is smoking all the time and his hypothetical victim, the Hare, subjects to him to really harfsh treatment.

"Stupidity and sanctimony," said the actor Vassily Livanov, who played the perennially nervously smoking Sherlock Holmes in the internationally acclaimed Soviet series of the 1980's. "Stupidity is an endless thing. None of this is new. Things of the kind occurred in the Soviet Union, too. This is a type of prudishness that can't help causing indignation."

The law on protecting children against hazardous information is useful in theory but it should be interpreted largely as a warning for the parents, not as a direct prohibition, psychologist Larissa Solovyova told TASS. "But you shouldn't blow the situation out of all proportions. It's vital to turn your brains on in any circumstances. I've heard about the mishap with the books banned in the Irkutsk region and I decided it was simply a joke."

Solovyova pointed out a highly troublesome phenomenon among Russian children and adolescents a snowballing number of psychic disorders that could not be classified in the process of conventional diagnostics. The situation definitely stems from the avalanches of information pouring on the children's heads.

In the wake of it, she believes that the information aimed at children should be carefully weighted and control over its quality is definitely necessary.

"No doubt, that's not a problem for the absolute majority of rationally thinking moms from well-to-do families, who most obviously control their children and don't need any such laws," Solovyova said. "It's very unlikely that these moms will ever take their children to an 18+ movie. That's a really helpful thing."

"It's also good enough when certain websites are blocked in the Internet, as parents wouldn't be able to do this on their own," she said.

As for the books, Solovyova believes they pass through strict procedures when they are still prepared for publishing.

"Editors and publishers are censors by virtue of their job and they won't encroach on this law," she said.

On the whole, the state should exercise reasonable control in the situations where children's parents cannot ensure it themselves, Solovyova said in conclusion.

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