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“Summer in a Pioneer Tie” by Katerina Silvanova and Elena Malisova is the main book hit of the season, it was published in an unprecedented circulation for Russia, but books still run out in stores. Perhaps one of the reasons for the success (in addition to the merits of the text itself) was the campaign of Russian propagandists directed against this work. It describes the relationship between a pioneer and a leader – this outraged Zakhar Prilepin, Nikita Mikhalkov and Dmitry Kiselev, who saw “LGBT propaganda” in the text. We tell how the persecution of female writers affected the success of the book (which will soon have a sequel).

May 25 in his telegram channel Zakhar Prilepin published a post in which he criticized the book by Katerina Silvanova and Elena Malisova “Summer in a Pioneer Tie”. The writer was offended by the fact that the romantic relationship between the two pioneers (here Prilepin made a mistake – in fact, one of the heroes, Volodya, is no longer a pioneer, but a Komsomol member, a pioneer leader) unfolds against the background of “our national Soviet symbols – a red tie, a red banner, paintings and sculptures of real and cult heroes of that period. The indignant Zakhar Prilepin demanded to immediately introduce a law protecting shrines from mockery, and also expressed a desire to “burn down the office” of the Popcorn Books publishing house – however, he mercifully offered to do this at night so that employees would not suffer.

Prilepin’s post launched a powerful campaign in “patriotic” blogs – “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” was announced by various voices as almost the main source of moral decay, pedophilia, debauchery and other reprehensible and illegal practices. A week later, State Duma deputy Nina Ostanina sent to Roskomnadzor the requirement to check the novel by Silvanova and Malisova for “propaganda of non-traditional values” with the prospect of initiating a criminal case. And a couple of weeks later, at the end of June, media heavyweights joined the fight.

Part of his program on the TV channel “Russia 1” “I’m flying in a pioneer tie” dedicated Dmitry Kiselev, and Nikita Mikhalkov in the program “Besogon” read aloud with great feeling a small fragment of the book, in which he saw a violation of the constitution and “dashing work” to promote same-sex relationships. Moreover, Nikita Sergeevich noticed that the initial letters in the title of the novel – LVPG – suspiciously resemble the abbreviation LGBT, and shrewdly suggested that this was not a coincidence.

The persecution of authors and publishers of the novel continues to this day. Elena Malisova, Katerina Silvanova, and Popcorn Books editor-in-chief Satenik Anastasyan have received numerous threats, and recently in Nizhny Tagil, members of the Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth! bought in stores “Read-city” all remaining copies of books containing “obvious LGBT propaganda”, including “Summer in a Pioneer Tie”. Initially, the activists intended to burn them, but later the books were put to better use: they were donated to the local diocese.

Meanwhile, in All-Russian book rating, compiled according to the data of the largest online platforms and retail bookstores, in the first half of 2022, the book by Silvanova and Malisova took first place in the category “fiction” and second in the combined rating for all genres. Revenues from its sale amounted to about 50 million rubles, and the circulation, despite the meager costs of advertising and promotion, exceeded 250 thousand copies – an unprecedented figure for Russia.

Before becoming a full-fledged book, “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” appeared on the largest fan fiction site in Russia “Fikbuk” in the originals section, where texts are published that are stylistically close to fan fiction, but at the same time do not exploit the entourage and heroes of existing literary and movie universes. The novel was a success with readers, and the authors decided to try their luck by sending it to the editorial mail of Popcorn Books, a publishing house specializing in young adult literature and actively working with LGBT issues.

Fragments of books “Popcorn Books” on “jellyfish”

The publisher liked the novel, and Popcorn Books decided to take it on – in early 2021, the book went to stores. From that moment on, the popularity of “Summer” steadily increased: the novel attracted attention YouTube bloggerstelling about books for youth and teenage audiences, the baton was taken by young adult bloggers on other platforms, word of mouth turned on – and by the fall of 2021, the novel had firmly established itself on the bestseller list, where it remains to this day.

Critics accuse Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova of distributing gay pornography and insulting Soviet holy places, but this only indicates one thing: none of them actually read the novel.

Indeed, the main characters – the pioneer Yura and the pioneer leader Volodya – are in love with each other, but their relationship is completely platonic and chaste. The scene quoted by Nikita Mikhalkov, in which Volodya runs his hand along Yura’s cheek, is perhaps the most risky in the novel. Moreover, young writers talk about the pioneers with much more sympathy and warmth than their older colleagues, who have personal and often traumatic experiences of traveling to pioneer camps. The Soviet past by Malisova and Silvanova is shown in the traditions of late Soviet children’s cinema, on which, probably, the knowledge of the authors in this area is mostly based, that is, there is no need to talk about any mockery or abuse – rather, on the contrary, they can be reproached for some idealization pioneers.

“Summer” and four more books about the pioneers

By the way, “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” is by far not the only super-bestseller in Russia that is aimed at teenagers and young adults and contains homoerotic motifs. So, for example, the short story by the Chinese writer Mosyan Tongsu “The Blessing of the Celestials”, which occupies the fourth place in the consolidated bestseller rating, also tells about the romantic feelings of two young men, though not in the Soviet, but in a fantasy setting.

In general, about a quarter of the books in the young adult category somehow address the LGBT theme, and given that, contrary to popular belief, teenagers today make up the backbone of the readership in Russia, this is truly a huge figure. Psychologist, candidate of psychological sciences Irina Mlodik comments:

A teenager awakens sexuality, it confuses him, worries, worries more than pleases. The teenager worries that his attraction deviates from the generally accepted, when in fact he is just a walking “hormonal bomb”. Teenagers want to be like everyone else and at the same time form their own individuality. And books about LGBT people help them to accept themselves and the diversity and diversity of their own desires.

Most of the recent legislative initiatives aimed at strengthening the control of “LGBT propaganda” have used “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” as a clear and, as the authors conceived, a particularly frightening precedent.

What happens to this law

Why exactly the book of Katerina Silvanova and Elena Malisova had the dubious honor of serving as a trigger and causing such a flurry of indignation, one can only guess.

Probably, a combination of three factors played a role: the huge, absolutely organic popularity of the novel among young people; the use of Soviet aesthetics and entourage in it, and, finally, the sacralization of literature characteristic of Russia. Of all the arts, it is literature that we think of as something most “high”, “moral”, “spiritual” – which means that any deviation from “traditional values” in this area looks especially blasphemous and outrageous to their champions.

Readers’ reaction to the Pioneer Tie Summer bullying campaign was predictable: harassment and cursing worked as the most effective publicity. The number of blog posts, reviews and reviews after the speech by Prilepin, Mikhalkov and Kiselev increased many times over, and the number of search queries in Yandex in July amounted to 175 thousand (for comparison, the book by Zakhar Prilepin “Militia Romance”, published a few months earlier, for that the same period was searched 481 times). There are no official statistics for the last two “scandalous” months yet, but it seems that the public fight against “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” significantly boosted sales and even those representatives of the target audience who had not heard about it before learned about the book.

The effect achieved is evidenced, in particular, by the fact that when Popcorn Books announced about the imminent release of the long-awaited continuation of the novel called “What the Swallow Is Silent About” (in which the grown-up characters meet again and, of course, find out that first love is the strongest), a site where you can pre-order, in the first half hour collapsed due to overload. Now the problems are fixed, and the pre-order is in full swing.

If in any form a law on a complete ban on “LGBT propaganda” is passed, the book will be withdrawn from sale or, in any case, will not be reprinted – this is probably also why buyers do not hesitate to purchase it and strive to be among the first owners of a novel about new adventures Yura and Volodya. The book will go on sale at the end of August.

Galina Yuzefovich – about how the new law will affect literature in Russia

Galina Yuzefovich


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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