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Russia’s Buttinski Nomenklatura

From panties to cigarettes to shoes to cancer drugs, they know what’s best for everyone.

by Galina Stolyarova 26 June 2014

“Women Under 40 Prohibited,” shouted the newspaper headline.


“From what?” I wondered. Becoming judges or school principals? Joining social clubs for the middle-aged?


The answer, when I read further, was equally absurd.   


The article was on a proposal debated in the Russian parliament this month. Lawmaker Ivan Nikitchuk had introduced a bill to ban the sale of cigarettes to women under 40. Violators would be fined 3,000 to 5,000 rubles ($90 to $150).


Let’s leave on one side the obviously discriminatory nature of a legislative move that would be unthinkable in any other European country.


Although the idea seems straight out of a political satire, it is indicative of a way of thinking in the upper echelons of government. Many Russian officials believe that tight control and restrictions are the best approach to a range of social issues from drug addiction to reproductive health.


Nikitchuk says the smoking ban for younger women would help “preserve the genetic resources of the nation.”


“All normal Russian people want to leave a healthy generation to follow after them, and we do not want our country to turn into a land of disabled people and allergy sufferers,” Nikitchuk said in an interview with Kommersant.


“When a woman smokes, she creates infertility risks for herself and is much more likely to give birth to an unhealthy child. Over the past 20 years the number of women in Russia who smoke has tripled. And it is high time to act.”


Asked why the proposed ban does not target the male population, Nikitchuk said – wait for it – that men who smoke have already punished themselves enough because smoking effectively reduces their sexual potency.  


In recent months the Russian state has produced an avalanche of ever more sophisticated and intrusive restrictions meant to improve public health.


In February, Russian officials expressed grave concerns about the quality of women’s underwear and banned lingerie that does not reach a 6 percent threshold for moisture absorption.


Moisture absorption in many of the most popular synthetics used in frilly panties is reportedly around only 3 to 3.6 percent. All of these “wrong” types of lingerie are due to disappear from the shelves in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, which form a customs union, by 1 July.


Those in the Russian government advocating the law said fully synthetic lingerie can cause vaginal inflammation.

Of course women can still smuggle such lingerie into the country in their suitcases. But for how long? I would not be surprised to hear that Russian government scientists have been ordered to develop a sophisticated scanner to detect the “dangerous” lingerie as you leave the baggage area. Big Brother is watching your knickers! 


Encouraged by the success of the campaign against lacy panties, another state Duma lawmaker has come up with his own pet project along similar lines.  


Oleg Mikheyev has urged Viktor Khristenko, the economic chief of the customs union, to introduce new orthopedic regulations for trade across the bloc. The list of unhealthy items he would effectively ban includes ballet shoes and other footwear lacking heels, as well as stiletto heels.  


In his statement, carried by the Izvestia newspaper, Mikheyev argued that such shoes cause foot disorders, which he claims afflict around 40 percent of the Russian population. According to Mikheyev, some of the most fashionable items are among the most harmful.  


For men, Mikheyev proposes a ban on canvas sneakers, moccasins, and loafers with no heels. The lawmaker also called for canvas sneakers to be banned in the Russian army, as he feels that they undermine the battle-readiness of the country’s armed forces.


Mikheyev’s initiative is gaining support in medical circles. An orthopedic surgeon, Vladimir Khoroshev, told Izvestia that high heels or ballet shoes could cause health problems. He suggested that heels higher than 4.5 centimeters (almost 2 inches) pose a series of dangers, from memory loss to skeletal damage and uterine prolapse.


The list of Jesuitical restrictions goes on. In 2014, Russia banned tobacco companies from involvement in charity work, declaring their activities “unethical.” In reality, the move has punished the charities more than the companies, which were among the country’s biggest charitable donors.    


Will Russia become a healthier country if struggling schools and hospitals receive fewer grants from the tobacco companies, if women are forced to smuggle in stylish stilettos from abroad, or if the whole female nation is once again forced into the kind of gigantic shapeless cotton knickers that once made Russian women a laughingstock in Paris?


These bans and restrictions show that Russia’s jackbooted version of the nanny state has run out of control. And, in equally clumsy efforts to combat alcohol and drug abuse, the Russian government is destroying freedom and damaging the fabric of life. Some of these crazy restrictions cause a great deal of pain, quite literally.


For example, more than a decade ago the right to prescribe strong painkillers to cancer patients was placed under the supervision of the Federal Drug Control Service. Even in the Soviet era, doctors had the same freedom to prescribe strong painkillers, including morphine, to cancer sufferers as they had to prescribe any other medications.


Every year, doctors try unsuccessfully to win back the right to dispense these drugs. Without them, many cancer patients die in excruciating pain as the dosages the doctors may legally give do not suffice for the final stages of these devastating conditions.


The medicines that were created to help some of our most severely ill patients are now in grave shortage because of restrictions imposed by the drug police. At the same time, fly-by-night pharmacists are producing their own dangerous cocktails of drugs, specifically aimed at hooking potential addicts. Yet over this shady trade the drug police seem to have very little influence.


The proponents of the series of recent drastic solutions to health problems may be well-intentioned. But in some cases they are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In others they risk either driving the offending behavior underground or alienating the very people whose health they seek to protect.


Their solutions are as naïve as Prohibition in the 1920s. And their ham-fisted laws and regulations are surely destined to end the same way.



Galina Stolyarova
 is a writer for The St. Petersburg Times, an English-language newspaper.
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