A bum rap

Things are so bad in Russia that people are reduced to stealing toilet paper, writes Paul Goble in an absorbing article in The Interpreter. Referring to the case of a 21-year old man who was arrested in Petrozavodsk after stealing a roll of toilet paper from the city’s Lotos Plaza shopping centre. Goble says that the incident indicates how ‘Russia’s poor are driven to despair by deteriorating economic conditions [and are] seeking to take care of themselves and their families by turning to crime.’ He cites Sergei Smirnov of the Higher School of Economics as suggesting that the situation is not yet so terrible as to cause social unrest, as many Russians still have money in reserve, but counters that ‘at a time when some Russians are forced to steal toilet paper, that may not be as much a reserve as Smirnov suggests.’

The Interpreter regularly plumbs the depths of Russophobia, and with this article hits rock bottom. It calls for a little bit of freshening ‘whataboutism’. A ten-second search for comparisons with other countries indicates that swiping a bit of loo roll is, as the British might say, a fairly ‘bog standard’ crime.

Take, for instance, the case of David Pinkham of Massachusetts, who ‘was caught out when police spotted him leaving Lawrence City Hall with a case of unused toilet paper. … Further investigations revealed he had even more about his person, with six rolls hidden down his pants. A police report stated that he “pulled six tightly folded toilet paper rolls from his buttocks and groin area” at the police station.’ And Pinkham is far from alone. Toilet paper stealing is in fact so common that many dispensers have anti-theft devices built into them. The problem got so acute at a Trenton, New Jersey, library that in 2013 it began rationing paper.

According to a newspaper report, ‘the rising cost of living’ was the most likely cause of Pinkham’s crime. And yet nobody has seen fit to turn his actions, or those of others, into an article entitled ‘How Bad Are Things for America’s Poor? Some Are Now Stealing Toilet Paper’, let alone suggest that the United States is on the brink of political revolution. Goble suggests that the Russian government’s policies are flushing the Russian economy rapidly down the drain. Maybe they are, but you can’t draw that conclusion from a single incident of petty thieving.


8 thoughts on “A bum rap”

  1. That’s funny… shortages of toilet paper were also used as evidence of the bankruptcy and unworkability of Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela, and by extension socialism itself.
    One souvenir of a day-trip I took into East Berlin back in 1988 was a few sheets of public restroom toilet paper – very much like construction paper, it was. No wonder most East Germans I saw looked rather uncomfortable….


    1. That strikes me as a fair criticism of socialism – one might say that one of the good things about post-Soviet Russia is that there actually is toilet paper which can be stolen.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amusingly enough, East German style toilet paper makes a bit of a comeback among enviromentally minded Berlin hipsters, because it is seen as “more natural” or whatever.

        Actual East Germans (like me) view this with no small degree of amusement.


  2. Even Goble ought to know that Russian don’t use toilet paper. They use the daily Putin Times sent free to every household full of the latest pictures of Putin kissing puppies, wrestling tigers and laughing at Obama jokes.


  3. It would’ve been funny if this, this sort of analysis, wasn’t so common.

    Makes me more annoyed, cynical, and pessimistic than ever. More than other similar hysteria campaigns I’ve seen in the last 20-25 years.


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