The Associated Press reports that “30 women protesters in Kazakhstan were arrested and thrown into police vans while wearing lace underwear on their heads and shouting ‘Freedom to panties!’”
Is this the beginning of a sexual revolution in authoritarian central Asia? Alas, no. The protest is a response to new rules from the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union banning the sale or importation of underwear containing less than 6% cotton. The ban will outlaw 90% of the underwear currently being sold in those countries, stoking concerns of a return to Soviet-era underwear.
Although it is unclear to me at this point exactly why, lacy silk lingerie apparently threatens the economic vitality of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
Banning clothes for economic reasons is unfortunately nothing new. In her thorough and informative book, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, Georgetown professor Pietra Rivoli details the efforts of the English Parliament in the 17th Century to keep people from abandoning English woolens in favor of cotton garments from India. In 1700, Parliament went so far as to mandate that all corpses be buried wearing nothing but wool.
Will trade historians one day write about the great Russian panty raid of 2014? Will they tell of the uprisings in the streets, the dangerous and exotic world of black market lingerie smugglers, Vladimir Putin’s regime-shattering silk drawers scandal? Only time will tell.
The purpose of trade barriers is always to control consumers, because free consumers are a danger to the goals of the state. And so, I call on free traders all around the world to stand in solidarity with these protestors. Freedom to panties! Freedom for all!