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Yle stunt tests Russia’s reaction to Tom of Finland stamps

Packages plastered with the iconic homoerotic images have been posted across the border, to test whether they fall foul of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws. But the stamps are now also arousing stiff opposition within Finland, with the Halpa-Halli chain of department stores refusing to stock the depictions of entwined, muscular men.

Tom of Finland -postimerkkejä postipaketissa
Yle Tampere's package before being posted to Russia adorned with Tom of Finland stamps Image: Yle

Yle’s Tampere bureau announced on Tuesday that they have sent packages and letters plastered with homoerotic stamps to Russia, to test whether they fall foul of the country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.

This week the Finnish postal operator Itella unveiled new stamps bearing artwork by the iconic homo-erotic artist Tom of Finland, in a tribute which has aroused strong international interest.

Pre-orders for the stamps, depicting entwined muscular, mustachioed men, have so far come in from 178 countries, Itella said, and Finnish post offices reported long queues when the designs were released on Monday.

A report by Yle’s Tampere bureau explained that two parcels and two letters were sent to addresses in Moscow and St Petersburg on Tuesday.

The postage was paid for in full or in part using the raunchy stamps, one of which features a pair of clenched, peach-like buttocks in front of a man’s face.

Yle Tampere’s report said, “We wanted to test how the Russian postal service and customs would respond to the stamps.”

The letters are expected to take up to 9 working days to arrive, while the delivery time for the parcels is normally 14 working days, according to Finland’s postal operator. In the meantime readers can keep abreast of the packages’ progress via updates on Twitter containing the #TomofRussia hashtag.

Slow to arrive

However Yle’s Russia correspondent Marja Manninen warned that the stunt may turn out to be inconclusive, adding that even correspondence unadorned with gay imagery can take an extremely long time to arrive.

“I’ve had New Year’s cards sent to me from Moscow that don’t arrive until March,” Manninen said, “so in any case you can expect to wait a few weeks. And with these stamps they may not get there at all.”

But she added: ”On the other hand, the stamps might go completely unnoticed. Tom of Finland is probably not as well known in Russia as elsewhere in the world.”

In 2013 Russia’s President Putin signed a law outlawing the distribution of “homosexual propaganda” to underage individuals. Materials demonstrating the acceptance of so-called “alternative family arrangements” are also banned, as well as images which show homosexuality in a positive light.

Finnish boycott

However, the gay imagery of the stamps has also met with stiff opposition within Finland, with some finding the celebration of homosexuality particularly hard to swallow.

On Tuesday the Halpa-Halli chain of department stores announced that it is refusing to stock the stamps in any of its 38 stores, citing the management's Christian beliefs.

Managing director Janne Ylinen said: “The stamps do not unfortunately represent our values. We have had a great deal of supportive feedback from our customers over our decision… and we don’t want to offend our customers by stocking the stamps.”

Ylinen also insisted that all customers are of equal value to the store. “This is not a political move, but one related to our product strategy, in which we are respecting our customers’ peace of mind. We don’t want to unnecessarily provoke people in areas where we have stores,” he said.

A spokesman for Finland's largest LGBT rights organisation, Seta, said he was "amazed" at Halpa-Halli's decision, and called on the company to reconsider its boycott.

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