Between the ongoing Olympics in Sochi and the increasingly bloody protests in Ukraine, you’d think that Vladimir Putin would have weightier issues to worry about than women’s underwear. But, as the Guardian reports, a Putin-led economic agreement that would ban lacy lingerie has recently caused a popular outcry in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus:
A carelessly worded ECU regulation on the absorbency of non-natural materials has sparked colourful protests from wearers of lace underwear in the Kazakh city of Almaty. Experts warn that unless the law is changed by July 1, 90% of lingerie stocks in the union may have to be destroyed. […]On Sunday 30 women protesters in Kazakhstan were arrested and thrown into police vans while wearing lace underwear on their heads and shouting “Freedom to panties!”
The measure doesn’t deliberately target panties, of course, though the fact that officials reason that lace doesn’t absorb enough moisture probably doesn’t help their case. Instead, the larger ambition is to create a trade and customs zone that can rival the European Union and discriminate against its products. According to the Guardian, 80 percent of the underwear sold in Russia is foreign made, with total sales reaching $4 billion annually.Such a Eurasian economic bloc would be formidable indeed. The three existing members already combine for around $2.3 trillion of GDP, and they will be joined later this year by Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Russia will also twist some arms to get Azerbaijan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to sign up, with Georgia and Ukraine now looking less likely candidates than when the union was established in 2010.But what this episode also illustrates is that Putin’s dream of a resurgent Eurasia, united not only by a common market but also by a common culture, distinct from the West, is not shared by everyone. In all too many places, from Vladivostok to Lvov and Moscow to Minsk, people still yearn for the goodies of Western capitalism every bit as much as they did the day the Berlin Wall came down. According to the Guardian:
Photographs comparing sexy modern underwear with outdated Soviet goods began spreading on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday as women and men alike railed against the prospective changes. […]Many see the underwear ban as yet another example of the misguided economic policies that have become a trademark of many post-Soviet countries [and] as yet another attempt to add regulations and controls to an already byzantine bureaucracy. […] “I think this is just another silly law that shows the ineffectiveness of our government, ”said 22-year-old Muscovite Trifon Gadzhikasimov, noting that most of his friends travelled abroad regularly.
The “panty riots”, as they’ve been dubbed, may seem silly on the surface, but they are of one piece with a civilizational clash that is manifesting itself in much more serious ways elsewhere.