Yle stunt tests Russia’s reaction to Tom of Finland stamps

Packages plastered with the iconic homoerotic images have been posted across the border, to test whether they fall foul of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws. 

Yle Tampere's package before being posted to Russia adorned with Tom of Finland stamps Image: Yle

Yle Tampere’s package before being posted to Russia adorned with Tom of Finland stamps Image: Yle

Yle’s Tampere bureau announced on Tuesday that they have sent packages and letters plastered with homoerotic stamps to Russia, to test whether they fall foul of the country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.

A report by Yle’s Tampere bureau explained that two parcels and two letters were sent to addresses in Moscow and St Petersburg on Tuesday.

The postage was paid for in full or in part using the raunchy stamps, one of which features a pair of clenched, peach-like buttocks in front of a man’s face.

Yle Tampere’s report said, “We wanted to test how the Russian postal service and customs would respond to the stamps.”

The letters are expected to take up to 9 working days to arrive, while the delivery time for the parcels is normally 14 working days, according to Finland’s postal operator. In the meantime readers can keep abreast of the packages’ progress via updates on Twitter containing the #TomofRussia hashtag.

Slow to arrive

However Yle’s Russia correspondent Marja Manninen warned that the stunt may turn out to be inconclusive, adding that even correspondence unadorned with gay imagery can take an extremely long time to arrive.

“I’ve had New Year’s cards sent to me from Moscow that don’t arrive until March,” Manninen said, “so in any case you can expect to wait a few weeks. And with these stamps they may not get there at all.”

But she added: ”On the other hand, the stamps might go completely unnoticed. Tom of Finland is probably not as well known in Russia as elsewhere in the world.”

In 2013 Russia’s President Putin signed a law outlawing the distribution of “homosexual propaganda” to underage individuals. Materials demonstrating the acceptance of so-called “alternative family arrangements” are also banned, as well as images which show homosexuality in a positive light.

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Inside the Soviet Union’s Secret Erotica Collection

The collection includes erotica and modern novels owned by aristocrats.

The ninth floor of the Lenin Library is home to a pornographic treasure trove that was gathered over decades of Soviet rule. Even today, it remains off-limits to the public but The Moscow Times' Joy Neumeyer gained access to the repository of the once-forbidden collection.

The ninth floor of the Lenin Library is home to a pornographic treasure trove that was gathered over decades of Soviet rule. Even today, it remains off-limits to the public but The Moscow Times’ Joy Neumeyer gained access to the repository of the once-forbidden collection.

In the depths of the Russian State Library, Marina Chestnykh takes the creaking elevator up to the ninth floor. She walks past stack after stack of books behind metal cages, the shelves barely visible in the dim light from the frosted-glass windows. This is the spetskhran, or old special storage collection — the restricted-access cemetery for material deemed “ideologically harmful” by the Soviet state.

She arrives at a cage in the floor’s back corner. When she inserts a key in the padlock, the door swings open to reveal thousands of books, paintings, engravings, photographs and films — all, in one way or another, connected to sex.

It was the kinkiest secret in the Soviet Union: Across from the Kremlin, the country’s main library held a pornographic treasure trove. Founded by the Bolsheviks as a repository for aristocrats’ erotica, the collection eventually grew to house 12,000 items from around the world, ranging from 18th-century Japanese engravings to Nixon-era romance novels.

Off limits to the general public, the collection was always open to top party brass, some of whom are said to have enjoyed visiting. Today, the spetskhran is no more, but the collection is still something of a secret: There is no complete compendium of its contents, and many of them are still unlisted in the catalogue.

“We chose to preserve it intact, as a relic of the era when it was created,” Chestnykh said.

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