73 years after its debut on the silver screen, the Oscar-winning 1943 Donald Duck short “Der Fuehrer’s Face” or “Donald Duck in Nutzi Land” has been pulled off the list of banned “extremist materials” in Kamchatka, Russia.
In 2010, a Kamchatka resident was charged with “inciting hatred and enmity” and received a six-month suspended sentence for uploading a series of videos that the Russian Ministry of Justice classified as “extremist material.” Included in the set was the 8-minute Donald Duck short, which features everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly duck stuck in WWII Nazi Germany and forced to make munitions for an oppressive Fuehrer. Although recognized and used as United States anti-Nazi propaganda during WWII, the depictions of any Nazi-related materials is unacceptable according to the Russian government.
In the early 2000s, the Russian Ministry of Justice compiled the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which explicitly bans the depiction of any form of media that criticizes the Russian government or showcases Nazi symbolism or propaganda. Based on a fundamental misunderstanding about the content and context of the short, the cartoon was labeled “extremist material” and banned. Under penalty of the law, anything, including the anti-Nazi Donald Duck cartoon, on the list could not be produced, stored, or distributed in Russia.
Despite being included on the list for the past 6 years, the highest court in Kamchatka reevaluated the short and determined recently that it was in fact a satire of Nazi Germany and not a celebration of the Third Reich. “When prosecutors discovered this fact they filed a cassation with the regional court explaining that the video is a classic Walt Disney cartoon made within the framework of an anti-Nazi propaganda campaign,” notes the RT News.
They also wrote that the film contains no calls to extremism — on the contrary, it depicts Nazi ideology in satirical and mocking forms. The court agreed with this statement and also ruled that the film’s characters are not promoting violence against anyone.
This isn’t the first time that the Russian government has confused anti-Nazi materials with pro-Nazi materials. In 2015, several bookstore chains across Russia pulled copies of art spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus, citing laws that prohibit the display of the most prolific Nazi symbol — the swastika.
In response to the pulling of his book, art spiegelman commented on the larger implications of such misinterpretations and laws that prohibit the publication and distribution of specific materials:
I don’t think Maus was the intended target for this, obviously. But I think [the law] had an intentional effect of squelching freedom of expression in Russia. The whole goal seems to make anybody in the expression business skittish… A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression.
Thankfully, in the case of Donald Duck’s short, the Kamchatka courts recognized the error in their initial decision and had the cartoon pulled from the extremist materials list.
The short that offended Russian sensibilities follows, courtesy the Internet Archive.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!