Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Soviet-Style Snitching Making a Comeback Under Putin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – One of the most noxious aspects of the Soviet system was the encouragement the authorities gave to people to turn in anyone they suspected of violating either the law or the party line at the time, an encouragement that undermined social cohesion and created near universal suspiciousness that restricted the ability of organized groups to emerge.

            That system reached its apogee under Stalin and then gradually declined in importance although it was not rejected even at the end of Soviet times. But since 1991, it has been viewed as something that the government should encourage only as part of the fight against terrorism or to unmask extremist groups.  

            (For a discussion of the role snitching played in Soviet life and why most post-Soviet officials have not viewed it as something to be broadly encouraged, see V.A. Nekhamkin, “Snitching as a Socio-Psychological Phenomenon” (in Russian), Istoricheskaya psikhologiya i sotsiologiya istorii 7:2 (2014): 63-79 at

            Now snitching is being encouraged more widely, sometimes for what may be innocent enough reasons such as combatting illegal parking in Moscow but other times for less innocent ones. And even when in the case of the innocent ones, there is a potential problem because it encourages Russians to think about turning others in.

            This week featured two reports about the encouragement of snitching, one of the “innocent” kind but another far more worrisome. In the first, officials reported that Muscovites had used a mobile app available since 2015 to turn in more than 1.3 million cases of parking violations (

            In the second, Moscow has been encouraging the regions to pay for the formation of groups who will engage in snitching about the behavior they observe online. Nominally focused on sites that may harm children, the effort which is Russia-wide has the potential to go after anything officials decide must be controlled (

            Such organized snitching almost inevitably would have a penumbra of those interested in denouncing this or that individual or group even if they were not formally part of these groups which are about to be given legal form. And the existence of so many branches of this effort will have the effect of legitimating and spreading the return of this unfortunate phenomenon.

            On the location of current groups, their affiliations and some indication of their size, see the interactive map prepared by Radio Liberty which is headlined by the statement that “the army of snitchers in Russia is growing” (

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