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Alex J. Esq.
Alex J. Esq., Attorney at Law
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Is the balalaika illegal in the US? This is without a doubt

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Is the balalaika illegal in the US?

This is without a doubt the dumbest question I've ever asked but bear with me and if you feel compelled to laugh I understand. First I shall share the back story. My mother has a natural talent for music and enjoys rare or exotic musical instruments. She also got to visit Russia back in the seventies as a high-school trip. Any time she talks about the trip she expresses disappointment that she couldn't afford a balalaika while she was there. With her birthday coming up I thought a balalaika might be a cool gift for her. I wanted to be sure to get the right one so I have done quite a bit of research and found a weird bit of history. I read that the sale of a balalaika is illegal in the US and that one must have a licence to legally even play a balalaika. From what I've read it I've read it was signed into law as a ten year ban by president Roosevelt in the forties and has been renewed every ten years since. So my question is, is it really illegal to sell in the US? If so would I be committing a crime if I buy one on Amazon? Does one really require a license to to legally play one? If so how does one get such a license? And finally how did such a law come into existence? It seems insane, so if it's real there must be a reason for it, right?

Hello. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I will be happy to answer your question. You have raised a truly interesting question.


While Barrack Obama did renew the ban on balalaika which was first signed by President Roosevelt in 1940 for another 10 years in 2010, making it illegal to mass produce or sell balalaikas in bulk, it is not illegal to conduct a sale of an individual balalaika and to buy or sell it on individual basis and there are many companies in the US that actively sell variety of this fine instrument. While, the ban did state that someone who wants to play balalaika would have to obtain a "special license" it appears there the law does not specify what government agency can issue such license and, as such, it would lack specificity in order to be properly enforced and it is highly unlikely that anyone would ever get into any trouble for playing balalaika in the privacy of their own home or within enclosure of a private property.


Finally, the reason balalaika was banned, is based on the old Russian history, in 18th century balalaika was banned in Russia by the church and also by the government, since the instrument was used to mock the church and government by some people who would sing along with it anti-religious or anti-government folk songs and also Roosevelt thought that balalaika might a big propaganda tool by the communists and USSR supporters in the US at the time, so he decided to ban it as a precaution and absurdly the ban is simply "falls through the cracks" and keeps on getting renewed and what is more interesting, Bill Clinton extended it to Alaska (which was the only state that was previously excluded from the balalaika ban, due to the fact that balalaika was a considered a native instrument of Alaska as well, since Alaska belonged to Russia at some point not that long ago.


I wish you the best of luck!

Alex J. Esq. and 9 other Legal Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Interesting, so, given that it was banned on the grounds that it can be used to play anti government or anti religious music, is the ban itself even legal? Constitutionally it seems like a law somewhat at odds with the first amendment. Also was this a law passed through congress or is it some sort of executive order?

Dear Will

Thank you for your follow up.

The ban was never challenged for some obvious reasons (nobody was interested enough to challenge it), but also the reason it was never scrutinized on Constitutional grounds, is because the reasoning for the ban was never specifically provided by president Roosevelt, who banned it by an executive order to the best of my believe.

The botXXXXX XXXXXne is that you can buy an individual balalaika for your mother and she can enjoy without any reasonable fear of any legal consequences.

I wish you and your family the best of luck!
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you for helping me out with this truly bizarre issue.

Dear Will,

Thank you for accepting my answer and for your generous bonus, I really do appreciate it!

As far as this ban being on the books, it appears one of those laws, that is really obsolete and the only possibility that it would ever be enforced, if we enter into another cold war with Russia.

I wish you all the best!