We Talked to the Russian Vigilante Group Policing Terrible Drivers
These young people are trying to shame Russia's assholes by plastering their windshields with massive stickers that say, "I Spit On Everybody, I Drive/Park However I Want."
If the countless hours of rage-inducing dash-cam footage on YouTube are to be believed, drivers in Russia can be real douchebags. Obviously, there are lunatics behind the wheel in every country, but Russian roads seem to be on the verge of outright anarchy: Cars will double- and triple-park along bus lanes, they regularly drive on sidewalks and footpaths to avoid traffic, and there's seemingly no police intervention to keep drivers from acting like selfish assholes. With law enforcement not doing much about all this, a group of Russian youth have taken matters into their own hands by starting a campaign to shame rude drivers by plastering their windshields with massive, round stickers which proclaim, in Russian, "I Spit on Everybody, I Drive/Park However I Want."
The group is named StopXam, which means "Stop Rude People" in Russian (or "Stop a Douchebag," depending on how you translate it). They've posted countless YouTube videos of their work, politely confronting the offending drivers and asking them kindly to stop mowing down pedestrians on sidewalks or double-parking on busy streets. Most of the drivers apologize and move along, but the ones who obstinately refuse get one of those big ol' stickers, which seem extremely difficult to remove and take up about half the span of the windshield. Sometimes these confrontations are funny, sometimes they're violent, but most of all, they're deeply gratifying.
To learn more about these Russian traffic vigilantes, I got in touch with the leader and founder of StopXam, Dmitry Chugunov. We spoke together in Russian, and the following is an English translation of the conversation we had.
VICE: How and when did you start StopXam?
Dmitry Chugunov: StopXam started in May of 2010, so we're coming up on five years soon. I started it based on my personal, negative experiences in Moscow, and running into rudeness. One day, I waited nearly three hours behind a car that was double-parked. Driving around it was impossible and I ended up having to commit a few severe traffic violations to get through.
So you decided to put massive stickers on their cars?
You know, me and my friends were thinking about how we could identify a xam [literally a "rude person" in Russian] and decided there should be some sort of sticker that would be large enough to take up half a windshield, and should have that long message on them.
In some of your videos your altercations have gotten violent. Are you ever afraid it might turn ugly?
You know, no. I haven't gotten scared in a long time. I don't look for fights, but I approach them with the understanding that people who do look for fights are weak people who are trying to hide their weakness behind aggression. In order to maintain their right to rudeness, they'll be verbally aggressive or threaten injury, but I approach that calmly enough. I've had army experience, I'm not afraid.
Do you ever consider carrying a weapon to defend yourself, or even just like, a big stick?
I'd sooner say no than yes. Aggression breeds aggression and we're trying to, instead, step away from any aggression. The maximum we'd be willing to carry is maybe pepper spray, but we haven't even really gotten to that point, and furthermore we wouldn't carry sticks or any kind of traumatic weapons.
So what's the deal with Russians being terrible, rude drivers?
Not all of them are! Part of the goal of this project is to show that there are different drivers: There are those who don't give a fuck about anybody, who believe that other people's time, emotions, and lives don't have any value. People who think that their business is more important than everybody else's. Our goal is to show these people and ridicule them in our videos. In doing that, we're forming negative associations with the younger generation in relation to that sort of behavior, and we're trying to establish an appropriate pattern of behavior for future and current drivers.
That's well said, but why is it that Russia, specifically, has this issue? Between the dashcam footage and your videos, it does seem like Russia has a disproportionate share of shitty drivers.
Well, first of all, we have some really heavy traffic, but the situation isn't as regional as you say. If you take any metropolis, you'll see people behaving badly when dealing with accidents and slow-moving traffic. And you know, day to day, cars are a pretty universal modes of transportation, and unfortunately people aren't ready to opt out of that comfort and instead use public transit. Besides, cars are symbols of wealth... the cooler your car, the more self-assured you probably feel. But that's a certain problem with this population that's only just establishing itself as a developed society. On account of the last 25 years in our history—which were very difficult, in relation to the formation of the Russian Federation—there are large gaps in family values and education that can't not lead to the problems that we see on the road. It's a reflection of existing problems, the shortcomings of people to solve disagreements in some sort of constructive way.
Do you have a favorite StopXam moment?
Oh man, probably not. I cherish all of them for different reasons. Some videos are funny, some are sad, but all of them are part of a larger story about restoring order in the minds of people and I wouldn't single any out specifically.
How many people are in your group?
This group spans Russia now; it's in Nizhniy Rubezh, Ukraine, and Saksan. There are thousands of people who support the project, and hundreds of people who actually make it happen.
How do people support your cause?
Some people send us money, but most people simply support us by spreading the good word—that's enough for us. The thing is, we have two channels on YouTube, one is temporarily blocked right now because of a few legal issues, but on that one we've got over 2 million subscribers, on the other one we've got about 250,000. So, that's a large enough audience that through its size alone is able to support the project.
Do the police help or support you guys?
Partially. At first they would bother us more than they would help us, but there was a moment when our relationship became more parallel. That is, they wouldn't necessarily help, but they wouldn't harass us either. They understood that our project has the blessing of the president, and they generally tried to distance themselves. Especially since in practice we don't ignore anybody, I mean if a police car breaks the law, we'll bother them the same way we bother everybody else, just as we do with the cars of the FSB, doesn't matter who, the FSO, we approach everybody with the same harshness because the law is the law.
Wait, StopXam has the blessing of the president? What did Putin tell you guys?
He said we're good folks but that it's dangerous and we need to be very careful so as not to overstep the boundaries of the law, because a functioning society must operate within the law.
What have you learned from all of this?
In short, I'd say that I've probably become more patient and tolerant. I've learned to understand others, and most importantly I've learned to communicate my point of view even to the most stubborn people. I've managed to break through to some very obstinate folks the idea that their freedom ends where another person's freedom begins.
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