Support The Moscow Times!

Law and Disorder

In the past week, protesters have held a number of rallies calling for police reforms. Media coverage has included a spate of emotionally charged statements made by protesters. For example: “The sharp rise in police aggression over the past 18 months signifies the collapse of the social order;” “The police are little more than bandits;” and “Ordinary citizens shouldn’t fear the police.”

I wonder how effective these hysterical statements will be in achieving the desired reforms.  

I have no doubts that Russia’s law enforcement system is inadequate, but the problems didn’t begin only 18 months ago. I have been a permanent jury member of the Andrei Sakharov Prize for journalism since its inception in 2001, and every year I learn about new, horrifying accounts in regional newspapers of police abuse of power.

But in fighting for human rights, those journalists are concerned with the fates of specific individuals. Sometimes they are successful in helping the victims, but as a rule, those authors do not permit themselves to generalize about the system as a whole because they are often aided in their task by members of the police force itself. For these journalists, the enemy is not the entire law enforcement system, but individual victims and individual violators of the law,

Considering the scope and long history of this problem, it was outrageous that the issue hit the spotlight only when United Russia State Duma Deputy Andrei Makarov proposed dissolving the entire police force and replacing the officers with half as many people — and only honest ones. This raises three questions: Who will carry out the functions of the police force after it is dissolved but before new officers are trained? Who will determine if the new hires are honest? With the country in the midst of an economic crisis, what work will this army of laid-off officers find? Any normal, law-abiding police officer would view Makarov’s proposal as cheap populism and demagoguery that shouldn’t deserve the wide media coverage that it received.

This whole episode is giving me the feeling of deja vu. In early 1988, during perestroika, the democratic press and public used more or less the same angry but empty words in denouncing the Soviet Army. I remember the reasoning of the first wave of democrats: “Every military officer is a bastard by definition.” I remember how, at a public forum that I organized in 1990 to establish a dialogue between the military and the citizenry, the founder of the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia yelled at a gray-haired general: “[Defense Minister] Dmitry Yazov himself is afraid of me! They’ll kick you out of the army!” Yazov would have been happy to get rid of this reformist general at the request of democratic forces. I was reminded of this incident after hearing Makarov’s proposal to create a human rights organization that would carry out evaluations of the laid-off police officers.

That was the democratic mainstream during the late perestroika period. In the end, no one was able to create a union of democrats and officers. Once in power, the democrats only concerned themselves with ensuring the loyalty of the military’s top brass, while most officers were left to their fates and tried to survive as best as they could.

The police force is in roughly the same situation today. As a result, the degradation and corruption among the ruling elite in Soviet times is today remembered nostalgically as an example of law and order.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.

… we have a small favor to ask. As you may have heard, The Moscow Times, an independent news source for over 30 years, has been unjustly branded as a "foreign agent" by the Russian government. This blatant attempt to silence our voice is a direct assault on the integrity of journalism and the values we hold dear.

We, the journalists of The Moscow Times, refuse to be silenced. Our commitment to providing accurate and unbiased reporting on Russia remains unshaken. But we need your help to continue our critical mission.

Your support, no matter how small, makes a world of difference. If you can, please support us monthly starting from just $2. It's quick to set up, and you can be confident that you're making a significant impact every month by supporting open, independent journalism. Thank you.

paiment methods
Not ready to support today?
Remind me later.

Read more