Beginning on March 22, a number of Russian media falsely reported that U.S. President Barack Obama prolonged a decree that bans balalaikas in the United States until 2020. Websites flashed headlines about these “new U.S. sanctions against Russia.” Most of the reports went on to explain that such a ban has existed in the U.S. for 70 years, and is updated every decade. Some media reported about a total ban on balalaika sales, while others specified that the musical instrument is not banned, but a license is required to play it. However, the large scale manufacturing and sale of balalaikas are allegedly completely forbidden.
In fact, there are no restrictions concerning balalaikas in the U.S., and there never have been. The press secretary for the U.S. Embassy in Russia, Will Stevens, tweeted: “Just heard a great urban myth – the U.S. bans the import and sale of balalaikas. This is 100 % false”.
Maxwell McCullough, executive director of the Balalaika and Domra Association of America (established in 1978), told StopFake: “There is no restriction whatsoever in the United States on owning, making, playing, or performing on balalaika and there has never been such a restriction. There are balalaika orchestras in a dozen cities of the United States, a few of them as large as those in Russian cities. No special license is required.”
“It is true that there are no factories making balalaikas or domras in the U.S., but this is not because of any licensing restriction,” McCullough says. “There is simply not enough of a market for these to make such a business profitable”.
The story of the 70-year ban of balalaika has circulated online since 2011 on social networks and even in the media. No sources are cited, however.
Some Russian media came to understand the absurdity of the story and publically denied the ban exists a few days after reporting about it.