Russian publisher redacts book on gay Italian director amid LGBT crackdown

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By Lucy Papachristou

LONDON (Reuters) - Roberto Carnero, an Italian literature professor at the University of Bologna, was shocked when he received a call from his Italian publisher in March about the Russian translation of his new book.

The Russian publisher, AST, would agree to publish his critical essay on the openly gay Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini only with severe cuts.

When the book hit the shelves in Russia, Carnero saw how extensive they were. Photographs circulating on Russian Telegram channels showed significant sections were redacted with thick black lines, totalling some 70 out of 400 pages, he said.

"I am very concerned about this," he said in a phone interview from Milan. "This is something that happens in dictatorships."

The striking images of Carnero's book have thrown a spotlight on issues of government censorship in Russia at a time when the Kremlin says it is fighting an existential war with the West to defend its "traditional values".

In the course of President Vladimir Putin's rule, Russia has engaged in a widespread crackdown on LGBT rights, portraying them as a Western invention that threatens traditional Russian values based on family, nation and Orthodox Christian faith.

Russia has designated what it calls the "LGBT movement" as extremist and those supporting it as terrorists, paving the way for serious criminal cases against LGBT people and their advocates.

Private Russian companies such as music channels and online film distributors are routinely fined for hosting LGBT content.

In Carnero's case, the Russian publisher was up front about the censorship.

"Please note that the text of the book has been shortened due to Federal Law 478", AST wrote in the book's online listing, referring to anti-gay propaganda legislation.

The obscured passages in "Pasolini: Dying for One's Own Ideas" - about a fifth of the total text - deal with the director's "sentimental and sexual life", but are not explicitly sexual, Carnero said.

"I don't know if I made the right decision", he said of his decision to agree to the cuts. "But I had to choose between two things I didn't like."


In a statement last week, AST said blackening the text was "a more honest choice" than excising the sections entirely.

"Thus, Roberto Carnero's work has become interactive: the reader decides for himself whether to use any sources of information to find out what is hidden from him," AST wrote on its Telegram channel.

"The book becomes an artefact of an era, an attribute of a performance, an artistic statement," it added.

When contacted by Reuters, a spokeswoman for AST declined to comment further on its motivations for publishing a book with such severe redactions.

The spokeswoman said the book had sold out its initial print run of 1,500 copies and a second run had been ordered.

One of Russia's largest publishing houses, AST has also released books by authors who have condemned the war in Ukraine or who have been branded "foreign agents" by Russia.

Last week, Russian independent media reported that AST had pulled six books from its website, including American author James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room" and "Legacy" by Russia's Vladimir Sorokin, to comply with anti-gay propaganda laws.

Dan Healey, a professor emeritus of modern Russian history at St Antony's College, Oxford, said Russia's anti-gay legislation and wartime censorship laws imposed following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 have made public protest all but impossible in the country.

"It's obvious that anyone who engages in (pro-LGBTQ) activism in Russia now is laying themselves open to a custodial sentence, and not one of a few months, but years," Healey said.

Paradoxically, publishing a censored text may be one of the few ways to safely express dissent, he added.

The censorship ordeal had more than a whiff of irony, Carnero said, given his subject's outspoken activism.

Pasolini, an avowed Marxist who denounced corruption in Italian politics, was murdered in Rome in 1975 in murky circumstances.

"He was a very courageous person, someone who spoke out clearly," Carnero said of Pasolini.

"It's a paradox. Now, someone who was ready to die for his own ideas is the object of censorship in Russia."

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Gareth Jones)