Essays > Communal Apartments > Acceptable violations of privacy
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When a right to privacy is violated for the sake of fairness.
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Intrusions into privacy on the part of residents is in certain cases not only not condemned, but considered normal and even desirable.

First of all, the just distribution of resources is more important than privacy: if somebody takes too long in the bathroom or the lavatory, he can expect that people will start knocking on the door reminding him of their rights. This will start with the culprit's relatives, considered to possess greater rights over his privacy. A similar situation occurs when someone speaking on the telephone has his privacy violated by a neighbor standing with his address book, listening to the conversation, and demonstrating his impatience.

Another violation of privacy comes when a neighbor calls your attention to something that cannot be put off: for example, someone in the toilet has a telephone call, or is told that he has guests, or that something of his is burning on the stove. The favor outweighs the violation. The recipient of the favor can express his thanks by acting appropriately: asking his neighbor to turn off the flame on the stove or requesting that the person on the telephone call again later. The person who has done the favor is also compensated for the awkwardness of the violation. He has contributed to orderliness: the telephone is free; somebody else's guests will not be hanging around outside the door or in the entryway; the whole apartment won't smell of burnt food. Even more important is that favors assume reciprocity. If a few times in a row someone is called to the telephone, he feels obliged to answer the phone for others. For these reasons, the recipient of favors feels gratitude and, possibly, will show that gratitude in the way he relates to others and in his own willingness to do favors.

The direct relationship between ideas of justice and the intrusion of the group into the privacy of individuals can be seen from the following example from the 1940s. The pamphlet Instructions for tenants, (Пучкова, Мальгинова 1948) discusses an important question: how to fairly divide costs for electricity if the apartment has only one meter and one tenant has an electric iron? Any serious response assumes that the group knows who has an electric iron and when that iron is being used. Otherwise, it is impossible to ensure justice. As the Instructions put it, if you know how much electricity the iron draws you can, by agreement, set up a norm for using the iron, say a half-hour a day, and use that to calculate the appropriate monthly tariff for using the iron.

expand/collapse this text box Further Study
Works on Russia/USSR

Fitzpatrick, Sheila (2002). Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Oxford: Berg.

Garcelon, Marc (1997). "The Shadow of the Leviathan: Public and Private in Communist and Post-Communist Society." In Public and Private in Thought and Practice: Perspectives on a Grand Dichotomy, Jeff Weintraub and Krishan Kumar, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gerasimova, Katerina (2002). "Public Privacy in the Soviet Communal Apartment." In Socialist Spaces: Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc, David Crowley and Susan E. Reid, eds. Oxford: Berg, pp. 207-230.

Ledeneva, Alena (1998).Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siegelbaum, Lewis H., ed. (2006). Borders of Socialism: Private Spheres of Soviet Russia. New York: Palgrave.

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