'Pyramids of shame' target Russian debtors

Large metal pyramids used to shame Russian debtors, September 2019 Image copyright NTV/YouTube
Image caption 'Here lives a debtor!'

A utilities company in the Russian city of Samara is using giant, talking pyramids to shame residents who've fallen behind on their bills into paying up.

The black-and-yellow pyramids weigh more than a tonne and have to be manoeuvred into place outside the alleged debtor's home, state-owned Rossiya 1 TV reported.

Not only are the pyramids adorned with arrows and inscriptions like "a debtor lives here", they also broadcast a recording every 10 minutes of how much the debtor is said to owe.

The public reaction, judging by comments to TV correspondents and on social media, has not been very favourable, with the audio shaming a particular bugbear.

One woman complained to Rossiya 1 that the pyramids were as much a nuisance to people who paid their bills as to their lax neighbours.

"It's awful. If they know it will blare on and on and bother people nearby, why do they have to do it?" she asked.

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The pyramids fall quiet at night and at certain hours of the day to comply with noise-abatement laws, but Rossiya 1 adds that there are plans to make them light up during the hours of darkness.

Social media user Lev Moshkalev raised the question of whether debtors are really to blame.

"Ninety-nine per cent of debtors are counting out pennies for food, and that's why they don't pay," he tweeted.

'Only those who can pay up'

The company responsible, Samara Utility Systems, denies that it is targeting the poor, saying it is planning to use the pyramids "only near homes that look like the owners can afford to pay up".

"When the neighbours find out, it gets awkward for the debtor," company director Vladimir Biryukov told the TV channel.

But questions remain about how effective the "pyramids of shame" will be.

Rossiya 1 says previous efforts by Samara Utility Systems to shame debtors, including laser projections of the sums owed onto the walls of their houses, recouped no more than 0.1% of the outstanding bills over the past two years.

Image copyright Rossiya 1/YouTube
Image caption Putting the pyramids in place is a major job

Reporting by Jen Monaghan

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