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Street Justice Videos from Russia: StopHam


You have probably seen some Russian dashcam videos. Toeing the line between hilarious and frightening, Russian dashcam videos depict absurdity that you would expect from a Grand Theft Auto sub-plot. A lot of that absurdity gets caught on camera because the dashcams are prolific in Russia. It is a country fraught with low-level corruption and insurance fraud and having a dashcam is a necessity to ward off trouble. The low price of these devices (in the ballpark of $50-$200) easily offsets the potential thousands of dollars in damages or shady dealings with the authorities.

The phenomenon of filming various injustices or transgressions is thus a very strong undercurrent in that country, where one cannot always count on law enforcement to either be there or to follow up effectively. One manifestation of this reality is the topic of today’s post: the StopHam movement.

Wholly unrelated to veganism, StopHam is a transliteration of “СтопХам” or “Stop a Douchebag”, and it is a non-profit youth movement that originated in the early 2010s. The movement combats gross traffic violations and arrogance on the streets of Russia (cars driving on pedestrian sidewalks, parking in lanes that block traffic, etc.). The modus operandi of the group is to visit certain locations that are known for repeated violations, confront transgressors while filming, and glue stickers on the cars if the people involved refuse to change their ways.

The StopHam YouTube channel is full of heated confrontations. Threats and violence are common. In some cases, offending drivers drive off with activists hanging on to the hoods of their cars, getting shoved, punched, etc. I have seen at least one video where guns were brandished. It is all very dramatic.

 

The videos themselves may never be seen in a court room, but the impact they have is greater than whatever the police might do. The upper echelons of society can use their connections to get out of trouble with police, and in the case of fines, they are often immaterial for the wealthy. Videos on YouTube pose a different problem for these folks as they can’t easily block or stop the videos from circulation, and if by some chance they are connected to public officials or senior management in major corporations then this kind of publicity has teeth and repercussions. 

In places like Russia, public shaming can be more effective than the police. 

The other interesting thought that dawned on me after binge watching on StopHam videos is the number of actual remorseful people, and what that really means for social activism and justice. There are episodes where police do get called to the scene, they get presented with video footage, and in the face of assault charges the antagonists of the videos apologize and repent (maybe they’re not very sincere, but the 180-degre turnaround from belligerence is astonishing nonetheless). This has to be empowering for the little people. This might just be a gateway step to further civil action and activism for justice in a country that could, frankly, use a lot more of it.

There are a lot of critics of StopHam. Some people view them as bullies (being surrounded by a bunch of youths could be intimidating), some say that smacking stickers on cars obstructing views is illegal – and I would argue that all of that is true when viewed through a developed western lens. But viewed from a Russian’s perspective, where frankly less drastic actions would probably lead to no change at all, and where wealthy people might prefer to pay fines and continue driving on pedestrian sidewalks it seems like this might just be the only way to go.