'Soviet-era snitching' returns to Russia

"Denunciations, secret informants and squealers" are becoming "rife" in everyday Russian life, experts in Russia have said, with some people saying the trend marks a return to the dark days of the 1930s purges when people would denounce their neighbours and friends to the authorities in order to advance their career, or to secure a better standard of living.

According to an article published in the Moscow Times, denunciations often come from anonymous groups who state authorities rarely name, referring to them instead as "concerned citizens". However, in some cases the denunciations are public and often involve the State Duma or local deputies, with one expert claiming that state authorities sometimes fabricate claims in order to justify their actions.

Alexander Cherkasov, who works for a human rights group pointed out that several state-led campaigns against "loosely defined extremists, gay people and those perceived to be insulting the feelings of religious believers" over the last few years, are used to signal our certain individuals or groups, meaning that these people come under increased, and arguably unfair, scrutiny.

Anna Reshyotkina, an editor-in-chief of a glossy magazine, is quoted on the piece, describing her experience of having to explain to the state prosecutor about a front cover which had featured this year's Miss Russia draped in a Russian flag.

Any act considered to desecrate the Russian flag is a criminal offence which carried a punishment of up to a year in prison and the prosecutors told Reshyotkina that an unknown person had complained about the cover, sparking the investigation. Reshyotkina was not told the person's name and she has not been questioned about it since.

Irina Khaly, a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Moscow Times that Russia was in danger of returning to the 1930s. "Everything is sliding back to 1937: denunciations, secret informants and squealers,"

"These people are not in the majority, but they seek career advancement and other benefits, so they are active," she continued.

While the article concedes that snitching takes place in Western countries too, it argues that in Russia people can report someone simply for offending their feelings. Analysts told the Times that in the West snitching is used to restore order, while in Russia it is a way of punishing people.

"In Western societies there is no room for these groundless denouncements, because they would not have any effect", said Gasan Guseinov, a culturologist and philology professor at Moscow's Higher School of Economics in the article. "Here we have the opposite situation, where making baseless denouncements is institutionalised."