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In Ukraine, this photo may be porn

Culture wars arrive in Ukraine, with bans on gambling and porn.

Kiev artist Igor Gaidai worries that a new law extending the ban on pornography in the Ukraine may prevent him from creating portraits such as this one. (David L. Stern/GlobalPost)

KIEV — Igor Gaidai considers himself an artist, who, among other things, produces erotic photography that glorifies the beauty of the feminine form. 

In his photo studio and gallery in the center of the Ukrainian capital, he displays his various projects, including one called “Saman,” which hearkens back to a “pre-Christian era” when “witches” roamed the earth. In it, naked women are depicted in various poses with brooms, as if in mid-flight, and are meant to glorify “the power of feminine energy, beauty and wisdom.” His main display window also exhibits four young nude mothers, partially covered by their equally nude infants. 

In recent days Gaidai may have become an outlaw. 

In a flurry of moral protectionism, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, overwhelmingly agreed last month to beef up the country's law on pornography, outlawing its “possession” in addition to “its sale, distribution and manufacture.” Signed last week by President Viktor Yushchenko, the addition to the criminal code has caused many observers to fear that a crackdown against all erotic materials may soon follow.

The culture wars have arrived in Ukraine — albeit with a post-Soviet twist. The pornography law closely followed another new piece of Ukrainian legislation attempting to eradicate immoral living. Casinos, slot machine halls and bookmaker offices were closed practically overnight in June, when deputies voted to enact an immediate ban on all gambling-related activities.

“We want every Ukrainian family not to have a porno mag in the bedroom dresser, but a Bible,” said Viktor Shvets, chairman of the parliament committee that drafted the pornography law.

Shvets says that the legislation's purpose is to prevent the accumulation of large quantities of pornography with the intention to then sell it. Deputies also originally intended to target child pornography, said officials with close knowledge of the law, but “got a little carried away.”

Despite the terseness of the 38-word text that was passed — or perhaps because of it — many struggled to understand the law’s actual intent. It came as news to many, for example, that the sale and distribution of pornography has already been banned for some time in Ukraine.

More of a problem is that “pornography” is not defined in the criminal code. According to Shvets, a special commission of experts must be assembled to determine exactly what pornography is every time an arrest is made.

The law’s vagueness is actually the point, said Gaidai. “The text gives the government the ability to act as it wants,” he said. “This is a step back into the Middle Ages.”

(Some news reports and blogs claimed that the legislation outlawed all pornography, except that needed for “medicinal purposes.” The phrase is not anywhere in the original text, however.)

Political observers say that the new laws are an attempt to score easy populist points in the run-up to hotly contested presidential elections in January. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko immediately seized upon the gambling law, which her party co-authored, claiming that she was protecting the population and asking citizens to call a hotline if they discovered any underground gambling houses.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/russia-and-its-neighbors/090708/gambling-porn-ukraine