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Lecture Surveillance and Democracy:

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Anastasiya Astapova

on 27 September 2017

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Transcript of Lecture Surveillance and Democracy:

Rumors about surveillance
1991 independence
1994 first election, choice between:
1. nationalist, pro-European direction;
2. socialist, pro-Russian direction.
Phone and Internet Surveillance
Terrorist attack
(metro bombing)

Rumors about Surveillance

different societal shifts as crucial for the rise of surveillance (industrialization, urbanization, globalization, terrorism, etc.)
dominant organizing practice of late modernity
Surveillance Studies
international relations, political science, criminology, and the sociology of policing and technology
panopticon Michel Foucault
Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)
panopticon designed for prisons, schools, hospitals, and other institutions
circular edifice with an inspection house in its center
1975 Discipline and Punish
Panopticon - a metaphor defining modern prisons, schools, universities, and other hierarchical institutions as structures designed to observe and normalize.
Such institutions place the subjects in a state of constant visibility maximizing their efficiency.
Anglo-Saxon democracies (accessible), avoid rumors
Folklore Studies
research of rumor
"We are being watched, constantly": Contemporary Belarusian panopticon
"folklorists gravitate to narratives that they almost invariably believe to be false” (Oring 2008: 159).
Globalization - emergence of the similar security control technologies and, consequently, similar rumors about them.

Globalization does not mean homogeneity as surveillance remains conditioned by the local and temporal contexts (Murakami 2009).

Belarus “the last dictatorship of Europe”
interviews (2011-2014) among the citizens of Belarus and Belarusians living abroad
Great Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Russian Empire
Soviet Union
Special services of the Russian Empire (
politicheskii sysk
) implemented massive surveillance through:
spying on the citizens and the foreigners;
encouraging denunciations;
supervising public moods.
With no official taboos, punishment for:
criticizing or gossiping about the
and other high ranks;
mere mentioning of the words like ‘rebel’, 'riot'.
made the special services highly professional and hierarchical.
Lower - higher level;
particular attention to foreigners, former elites, intelligentsia, and youth, due to their inclination to dissent;
denunciations and complaints from the ordinary people – another serious source for surveillance – were encouraged;
the number of the militia/KGB employees is unclear
58.10 “anti-Soviet agitation” article
Alexander Lukashenka
safety and stability of the socialist state
The revival of the KGB Щ(oral tradition), bureaucracy, and blaming West for making troubles in Belarus
rekindle surveillance rumors
1. post-election protests at Ploshchas
2. dissident mass-media
Invisible wall between 2 groups of journalists
choice of identity
reinforcement of surveillance in many countries after some crisis (9/11, "maximum surveillance society")
suspiciously quick investigation reinforced conspiracy theories
unclear who is punished and why
How to make a bomb
traditional stories
mobile phone
bomb, president
Complaints and denunciations
anyone may become a victim
highly effective
the one who complains is always right
Fear of joke-telling
no official taboo
"but since in our country one may be punished for anything"
Oh, I have got such a headache from the interview. It is probably because of Belarusian satellites, they must be inflicting something on me, as I am telling vile things about Belarus.
Conversational humor
Surveillance and Democracy
the UK - "Maximum Surveillance Society"
difference is not in the number of the methods
transparency: public democratic discussion of legislation and ethics
No Rules - No Trust
whether the object can see the watchman and understand why and how the punishment is implemented
with no rules - hypersensitivity to everything (jokes, complaints, mentioning the bomb, etc.)
the modality of striving for change, lawfulness, and democratization
surveillance rumors foster the negotiations of ethnic identity between the russified and European past
Whom to believe:
marginalized dissidents vs. official version
(exaggerated martyrdom more effective than the explicit demand to resist)
the bias of understanding legends “as stories that we know to be untrue, but which the naïve teller does not” runs deep in the history of folklore studies (Lindahl 2012: 141)
Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant
ubiquitous and undeniable
Vigilance is a requirement of time
size of military/police forces
Rumors about surveillance
the only source of information about surveillance;

non-verified narratives uncover many more (different) problems than the official report about the human rights violations;

not only potential "criminals" suffer due to surveillance, but their relative too.

Jokes standing next to rumors
Who are the folk? Among others we are (Alan Dundes).
Historical precedents (Romania, Snowden, fieldwork under surveillance, Stazi, etc.)
(terroristic attacks by the opposition, mistrust to the neighbors (Tajikistan) and tourists
Muslims (the story of Muslim family)
not necessary to ask

true or not?

West Belarus 1939 (Savchenko)
In the Belarusian territory?
extended the network of secret police to the territory of Western Belarus newly acquired from Poland in 1939. The fear of a seemingly random arrest forced peasants, even in remote and isolated villages, to display loyalty and
devotion to the new rulers through denunciations and voluntary collaboration with the secret police (Savchenko 2009: 120–121).
Repressive regimes that used methods of control and identification of citizens as a means to impose political and moral values continue to leave a mark on social life regardless of their current stage of development (Frois 2013: 25).
motifs echo in later folklore
Estonian example
spirituality vs. political powers
7.6 active military men per 1000 citizens in Belarus,
compared to 2.3 in Germany, 4.3 in Venezuela, 7.2 in Russia, and 2.6 in Latvia (Preiherman 2013).
strong KGB school
My Belarusian-speaking friend studies at school; when she was about sixteen years old only, she communicated with people who organized the meetings at Ploshchas. She was just communicating with them, she never even wanted to participate in it, and she just supported their idea. Her mother received a call from the KGB advising her to calm down the daughter, they reminded the mother that her contract at school (she was a teacher) was expiring. And her mother forbade her to participate in anything – no matter a folk choir or dances.
[But how did they know?]
Everything is on a platter in social networks – our words and our thoughts. It can be easily read.
lists of advice
stability vs. resistance rumors
rumors as a tool for debate
rumors about Lukashenko having done this
It was the time just after Vitebsk terroristic attack, when we got an argument with my colleague. We started to discuss how people know how to make the explosives, are they so good at chemistry? It is possible to find information about it on the Internet, we agreed. Next morning this colleague’s wife retold our conversation in her working place, while having coffee. Her boss got interested, used the Internet, and searched how to make a bomb. He said that there were almost no useful links, just rubbish, they laughed and forgot about it. Closer to the lunchtime comrade militiaman appeared wearing the uniform, asking the boss for a private talk. The militiaman opened his folder, and there was a considerable printout of the websites the boss had visited. The militiaman asked, “Why do you actually visit these websites, do you know that it is a crime? Be careful, next time do not be so naughty”. I told about this story at work, and my colleagues dropped their jaws, concluding, “We should not use the Internet at all, it is so dangerous”.
Making queries to answer the unanswered question, efficiency of militia, cautionary tales
They may listen to all mobile phone calls. It does not mean that the Major is now
listening to us, but, as our phones now have microphones, they are switched on
and any comrade Major may listen what we are talking about. There is no even
need to make calls for it, it is still possible to listen to the phone which is
switched off, even with the battery removed. It is possible since the electrical
contour, connected to the microphone still sends this information to the air. But
tapping the phone which is switched off is very expensive, they may fork out the
money for it, but only if they really need it, for the very important person. KGB
exists, it has its tools. I am still on their list, not erased. When some meetings are
held in town, my phone is discharged very fast. It means that it constantly works
in the heightened regime, because they listen to it.
“I also always have strange noise, when I call to
Ukraine.... They start exactly when we start to discuss the lives in our countries”

“They listen in; always, when I call home something is like tuk-tuk-tuk [imitating the noise he hears]”
Internet shield (China)

Internet non-conformism (Arab Spring, Revolution through the social networks)

Edward Snowden

debates about internet security and investigations (France, US)
at the same time criticizing those who complain
taboos on naming the president
(terrorist attack story)
the jokes and legends do not only get well together, but they also provide necessary living conditions for each other
And then they came out with a bed that sleeps three – Lenin is always with us (the intrusion of the state into private lives)
Sources for vernacular knowledge;

rumors intertwining with humor, shaping the vernacular discourse of surveillance (meat-jelly);

shaping everyday behavior;

fortify the ideology of panopticon and the current hegemony of Lukashenka.

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