PEN American Center calls on the Russian government to halt its sprawling censorship regime today upon learning that the state forced the cancellation of a children’s play over accusations it “promotes homosexuality,” under the guise of the controversial gay “propaganda” law.

The Soul of A Pillow, by Olzhas Zhanaidarov, tells the story of a sickly kindergartener and his love for a hypoallergenic pillow bearing a male name, according to the Moscow Times. In a letter dated June 9, the Russian Ministry of Culture warned it would pull its sponsorship of this week’s Moscow International Open Book Festival—an annual gathering of Russian and international writers and publishing professionals where the play was set appear—if organizers did not cancel the performance of Pillow and another play, Herbivores by Maxim Kurochkin, for its use of expletives. Signed by First Deputy Minister Vladimir Aristarkhov, the letter argues that “the content of both plays goes against the traditional moral values of Russian culture.”  

Several writers withdrew their participation from the festival in protest.

“This is a clear case of censorship—a preemptive intervention by the government,” said Russian author, activist, and PEN Member Masha Gessen. “The fact that the book festival organizers caved to the pressure so readily is absolutely terrifying.”

The spectacle of one of the world’s most powerful governments going after a children’s play promoting tolerance is appalling.  Russia’s growing portfolio of discriminatory censorship laws, including the gay “propaganda” law and a new ban on expletives passed in May, not only isolates entire artistic communities but also threatens to erode Russia’s historically rich literary culture by homogenizing its creative voices. The coercive use of political pressure and financial withholding undermines the independence and diversity of Russia’s cultural institutions. We stand with our fellow writers in Russia in speaking out against such backhanded censorship, and urge the Russian government to end its campaign against citizens who speak and write in their own voices.


PEN American Center
New York, NY 10012
June 11, 2014

Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director,, (t) 212.334.1660 x 103, (m) 917.214.8665
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager,, (t) 212.334.1660 x 116, (m) 617.947.6512


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 3,500 American writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.