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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

They Name Names

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It appears that another Soviet practice is gaining revival in Russia. According to the Baltimore Sun, people who haven’t paid their utility bills, have amassed debts, spread garbage and pollution, and other violators of community norms are getting their names publicly displayed on billboards outside government buildings. The board outside the Mamonovo city administration displays the names of 50 residents. For example, “A recent posting showed someone with the surname Miziryak owing 22,519 rubles, about $873, in unpaid utility bills; and a woman named Gurkina with a debt of about $1,500.” Offenders are always given a chance to pay their debts explains Mamonov mayor Oleg Shlyk. But if they don’t within a 30 day period their names and sometimes even their pictures are added to the board.

Public shaming is an effective form of social control says Shlyk. “It has a good effect because the town is small and everybody knows each other. And when you have your name on the board, no matter what your post or rank, there will be a psychological impact on you,” he told the Sun.

City government is not the only institution using public shaming. The Sun explains,

The tactic has also been used in the private sector. About a year and a half ago, a nightclub in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, posted pictures on its Web site of violators of the club’s rules. The club’s staff wasn’t immune: Among the 14 people listed were two waiters who shortchanged customers and a bartender who under-filled drinks, according to the newspaper Novye Izvestiya.

Public shaming was a common method of enforcing social and political norms in Soviet Russia. According to my own research on Komsomol expulsions in the 1920s, the League’s Conflict Commission (the Komsomol own version of the Party’s Central Control Commission) mandated that local commissions publish the expulsions of members in local newspapers and wall newspapers in workplaces, clubs, and reading rooms.

Public shaming went beyond printing names in newspapers. Expulsions trials often occurred during general cell meetings where the offender’s peers could discuss, question, and vote on the expulsion. While in the mid-1920s Conflict Commission regulations stressed education and reforming offenders, local Komsomol organs were at the same time encouraged to organize public show trials to make examples out of repeat offenders especially if their offense appeared as a common violation.