Monday, October 26, 2015

Russians ‘Snitch’ for Very Different Reasons than Westerners Do, Policy Analyst Says

Paul Goble,

Image from, with caption: Soviet Tradition of Snitching Makes Comeback in Russia

            Staunton, October 26 – Officials in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities are encouraging Russians to snitch on those dealing in imported products, but this use of denunciations, Mikhail Komin says, given Russian realities both “illustrates and strengthens a number of negative tendencies.”

              “In the majority of developed democracies,” the political analyst writes in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” government encouragement of citizens to report on others “does not elicit especial concern. But unhappily, one cannot include Russia among the developed democracies” (

            “Our domestic ‘denunciation’ culture is closer in its structure and goals to the analogous phenomenon in eastern dictatorships.”  That is because when “an American or a Canadian complains” to officials, the main reason he or she does so is “a desire to achieve justice and to secure equal treatment for all.”

            Thus, “a denunciation in developed democracies,” Komin continues, “is a means of the struggle of society with freeloading,” that is, when someone gets more than his share or pays less than he or she should.

            The All-Russian Peoples Front is trying to organize something similar in Russia with its “For Honest Purchases” movement. But the motivating factor is very different, Komin says. Russians are encouraged to denounce or snitch on others in order to give themselves the chance for “a rapid start of a political or administrative career.”

            Consequently, this is really a manifestation of “the traditional Russian desire” to win preferment for himself or herself rather than to “secure for all similar possibilities and an equal share of ‘the common pie.’”  And the increasing distrust such encouragement sows among people “helps the authorities maintain the illusion of ‘a besieged fortress.’”

            Today, if one Russian turns in another, he or she is likely to be recognized and rewarded. But all this comes with a price: the destruction of trust among the population, something necessary for creating mass civic organizations and for resisting the power and pressure of the state

            This process at the mass level is an extension of and a direct analogue to the ancient “divide and rule” principle which governs how rulers block any challenge to their control, the political analyst says.  And as the economic crisis deepens and there is less to divide up, both elites and the population are ever more likely to be controlled in this way.

            Consequently,  “the number of such denunciations will only grow” both in the elites and in the population, Komin says; and that will push off even further into the future the time when there will be any possibility that Russia can form a genuine civil society and a responsible government.

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