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Essays > Coping with Communal Life > Spying
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Some tenants spy on others.
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Photograph: A denunciation sent to a foreign consulate.
One resident denounces a neighbor to foreign consulates in order to keep her from going abroad. [click the picture for an English translation of the text]

It is natural that people whose everyday lives take place in the same apartment will know about each other's affairs. To a degree, such knowledge is considered normal. As in any group, some people want to know more.

Various types of spying (listening in, looking) are fairly widespread in communal apartments. One informant describes a neighbor's habits this way: "She openly listens at other people's doors, or she stands there and listens to a telephone conversation and then with great relish relates what she heard to people in the kitchen. She'll say something like, "And I heard her criticizing you through the door. I even stopped to listen." She has this pose she takes. When she's on her way back from the kitchen, she stops at her door, leans forward a little, and stands there for a couple of minutes without moving, just listening.

While behavior of this kind is not commonly seen and probably reflects the proclivities of this one woman, her neighbors do not regard it as exceptional. Less obvious forms of the same conduct are ordinary. At the present time, spying is done for its own sake and has no relationship to the system of mutual observation and control that was a feature of the Soviet state. In the Stalinist period, an inclination to spy on others was institutionalized and resulted in denunciations of neighbors sent to various official offices. Such denunciations would be motivated either by a genuine belief in the struggle against "alien elements" and the necessity of unmasking them or (more often) by the utility of denunciations as a weapon in intra-apartment altercations with neighbors and a way to get an extra room if a neighbor was sent to prison (as could happen following a denunciation from a communal apartment).

See a comparatively recent denunciation, as well as a document written as a preemptive denunciation to ward off the denunciation of someone considered threatening.

Click the image to see a larger version, uncropped and annotated.
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