François-Xavier Nérard: Writing to the power

Last Thursday evening François -Xavier Nérard, the French writer and author of many bestsellers held an open seminar devoted to "Signaling, Complaining or Squealing? Popular discontent of Soviet Citizens under the Stalinist regime". The area of Prof. Nerard's interests lies in the Soviet period of Russian history, particularly the phenomenon of squealing and debunking and its role in the Soviet society.

Squealing and debunking – both voluntary and forced – were considered as ways of regime support, collaboration with the regime. Since 1928 the Soviet power has intentionally begun to develop and encourage this long existed practice of sending anonymous letters to the power, complaints and squealing. Were these actions interest-driven? To what extent squealing was necessary for the state and its citizens?

In the 1930s the very term 'squealing' (snitching) had not been in use, it had clearly negative connotations. Instead this practice had been coined as 'signaling', i.e. to signal or alarm potential and real problems. Most of these letters contain some elements of criticism towards Soviet life; they narrate the difficulties of everyday life in the 30s – people, famine, and life within collective, abuses from the side of authorities. On the other hand, letters containing targeted criticism of political leaders are extremely rare in the archives. They were always anonymous and include phrases like 'we beg your pardon for not having signed the letter, for it is forbidden to complain'. Thus, to conclude the Soviet people were silent under the weight of repressive apparatus, though, sometime they tried to signal their grievances to the power holders.