Post-communist fear of crime and the commercialization of security

AuthorMaria ŁOŚ
Published date01 May 2002
Date01 May 2002
Subject MatterArticles
Post-communist fear of crime
and the commercialization of
University of Ottawa, Canada
This article focuses on post-communist processes through which
fear of the state has been transformed into fear of crime and
longing for a stronger state. The communist governing technology
(‘control mentality’) was buttressed by fear of the secret security
complex and taboo-based management of the self (‘taboo
mentality’). Risk had unequivocally negative connotations. The
abrupt shift to a liberal-market ideology brought celebration of risk
but also an escalating risk of crime. Two relevant developments are
scrutinized: (1) the move from the state media (with their incessant
‘good news’ propaganda), to the market-based ‘bad news’ media;
(2) The re-emergence of the former secret police as a new private
security sector—the primary provider of risk definitions and risk
management technologies.
Key Words
control mentality • fear of crime • governmentality • post-
communist transformations • risk • security sector • taboo
Any change, however radical, has limits and possibilities grounded in the
past and present. While we cannot study hypothetical possibilities em-
bedded in the past, we may try to read the present as an emergence of the
Theoretical Criminology
© 2002 SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks
and New Delhi.
Vol. 6(2): 165–188; 023017
possible. After all, whatever exists must have been possible, and finding out
why it was possible may help us to understand better the nature of the
process and its built-in limits, opportunities and seeming necessities. Given
the prominence of crime in everyday conversations, the media and the
post-communist countries’ political discourse, it may be useful to trace
crime’s emergence and reconstruction within the context of changing
control rationalities.
Western criminologists have noted and explored the controlling quality
of fear of crime. To address its role and nature within the post-communist
context, it is worthwhile to look first at the possible lingering effects of the
former regime’s control formula (I will call it control mentality1) that relied
on fear to induce self-control in individuals (I will call it taboo mentality).2
What has happened to these control/taboo mentalities after the collapse of
the communist structures? What has become of the layers of power/
knowledge surrounding them? How has the removal of the police-state’s
trappings affected perceptions of danger and security? In addition, how has
the ideological replacement of the assumed subjugated individual by the
postulated free individual affected such notions as social control, self-
policing, crime, risk and security?
This attempt to explore and conceptualize processes of change with
respect to these issues is grounded in my previous and current research on
communist and post-communist societies, particularly Poland.3Since it is
impossible to review here all the relevant documentation, I will rely on
frequent references to my earlier publications that give fuller accounts of
my various inquiries. This article uses insights gained from those projects,
from Polish mass media, pertinent literature4and numerous visits to
Poland, to make sense of recent developments concerning the role of
‘crime’ in the new (govern)mental landscape. The more tangible aspects of
this process include radical shifts in the mass media profile (from good
news state propaganda to bad news private media) and in the field of
security (from state secret security to private protection industry).
From good news to bad news media
The communist mass media were essentially ‘good news’ media. This was
bound to change when systemic transformation abolished formal censorship
and produced media privatization. Even if the logic and realities of political
change did not free the media from direct political manipulation by the old/
new power elites, the coming of the market did expose the media to new
pressures and opportunities. The creation of the media markets, patterned
largely on western models, virtually necessitated a shift towards ‘bad news’
media, based on the understanding that bad news sells better. In a society
deliberately sheltered from negative media reporting for many decades and
Theoretical Criminology 6(2)

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