They Name Names

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.