StopXam is a vigilante group that is actively involved in fighting against the rude and entitled driving culture in Eastern Europe. Their goal is to stop bad driving with politeness, which forms the basis of the name StopXam (meaning ‘stop rudeness’). While the non-profit organisation originated in Moscow in 2010, several branches have emerged in neighboring countries such as Moldova.
With their unique approach towards eliminating illegal parking and dangerous driving, StopXam has managed to become an internet sensation. Their technique is simple: they first approach offending drivers and try explaining things politely. For instance, they might say: “Hello, your car is standing too close and does not allow this car to move. Please park somewhere else.”
Some drivers get the message quickly and correct themselves. But those who don’t get a giant sticker that covers up almost half their windshield. “We will give you a sticker on your front window, and it will be very uncomfortable for you to drive with it,” they warn. If the driver still doesn’t budge, they go ahead and paste the sticker, which reads: ‘I don’t care about other people, I park where I want’.
Understandably, most drivers are filled with road rage and do not take kindly to having their windshields vandalized. Some of them protest rather violently, yelling profanities and making rude hand gestures. A few even resort to attacking StopXam members with crowbars, baseball bats, or guns. The group records every interaction they have with drivers and uploads the video on to their YouTube channel.
The videos have gone viral – StopXam Russia’s channel has over two million subscribers, and some of their videos have been watched over 200 million times. They use the money made from YouTube to cover the cost of stickers and replacing broken camera equipment. And although they are used to frequent attacks, StopXam activists never resort to violence themselves.
“Politeness is part and parcel of our movement,” said StopXam leader Dmitry Chugunov. “If we call ourselves ‘Stop Rudeness’, we can’t then be rude to people. Some drivers are very violent. I’ve been threatened with a firearm thousands of times. But we want to build a civil society to make democracy work. So that is a conscious choice that we make.”
However, while their methods usually don’t involve violence, some videos feature StopXam activists doing way more than pasting stickers on people’s windshields, like smashing them with baseball bats, or fighting with the drivers, for example.
The group’s work and popularity has earned them the praise of some of Russia’s highest-ranking officials; they’ve even met with President Putin. “We do have some support as well from public servants and government officials,” said Chugunov. “But they help us in a private capacity. We’ve been praised by the President and the Prime Minister. It didn’t involve any financial help.”
Putin’s endorsment has helped the group’s relations with the real traffic police. But they insist that they’re not too close to the establishment. “We are so popular because we’re honest and transparent,” Chugunov added. “We don’t do any favors for important people or government cars. People who have bigger cars and more money shouldn’t think that they have a greater freedom to do anything they want.”
While StopXam’s efforts are truly admirable, the movement is a blatant form of public shaming – and it can be dangerous. There’s no telling what the consequences might be, but the brave group has no plans of stopping anytime soon.