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Russian Grammar Enthusiast Questioned For 'Nazi' Sympathies

Bonus-Media is one of the sponsors of Total Dictation, a free grammar-and-spelling test to which thousands of Russians voluntarily submit each year. (file photo)

They're known the world over -- those pedantic parents, friends, and colleagues who consider it a duty to sound the alarm every time a word is misspelled, a participle dangled, or an idiom ill-used.

But while such "grammar Nazis" can be annoying, they're rarely considered a security threat. Except in Russia, where officials are taking a dim view of language-preservation extremists.

Aleksei Pavlovsky, an entrepreneur in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don, this week became the latest to take the heat when he was called in for questioning "on suspicion of links to the grammar Nazis."

Pavlovsky's company, Bonus-Media, is one of the sponsors of Total Dictation, a free grammar-and-spelling test to which thousands of Russians voluntarily submit each year.

The initiative, which has parallels in countries like France and Ukraine, is generally recognized as an enjoyable nationwide exercise aimed at protecting Russian from the ravages of slang, foreign words, and substandard education.

While Pavlovsky's affiliation to Total Dictation most certainly makes him a grammar enthusiast, possibly even a member of the grammar police, Rostov investigators were not content to stop there. Had he ever received funding from the grammar Nazis? they asked during the May 27 interrogation. And how did he feel about people with terrible grammar? Did he have any desire to "destroy" them?

Pavlovsky was allowed to part ways with the prosecutors after agreeing to submit documentation for Bonus-Media for further inspection. (At least one news site noted with glee that the prosecutors' formal request for additional paperwork, reprinted on Pavlovsky's Facebook page, contained at least one spelling mistake, referring to the local district as "Rostkovaya" instead of "Rostovskaya.")

Other Russians have faced similar scrutiny for their commitment to grammatical rules. In mid-March, a court in Ulan-Ude fined Maria Burdukovskaya, a former activist with the pro-Kremlin Young Guard, for posting a Nazi-style eagle over the phrase, "Grammatik Macht Frei," or "Grammar will make you free" -- an adaptation of the notorious Nazi slogan hung over the entrance to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Grammar Nazis worldwide also frequently brandish a graphic featuring a red, Nazi-style flag with the letter "G," formed to resemble a swastika.

Such imagery has become potentially problematic under a new Russian ban prohibiting the use of swastikas and other Nazi symbols for anything other than historical or scientific use.

The ban was introduced shortly before the May 9th commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. But critics say the prohibition is so vague that it has been used indiscriminately to target culturally significant works, including Art Spiegelman's Holocaust graphic novel Maus, which features a swastika on the cover.

Rustem Adagamov, one of Russia's most popular bloggers, also had his Facebook account blocked after posting a photograph of WWII-era Christmas ornaments decorated with swastikas. Journalist Lina Danilevich was fined in mid-March after posting an archive photograph of Nazi troops occupying her native city of Smolensk.