Several hundred activists, at a rally in Moscow on March 6, demanded an overhaul of Russia's notoriously and increasingly corrupt police force, arguing that the reform of the service ordered by President Dmitry Medvedev in December and recent firings of senior police officials could not produce any serious effect.
The Interior Ministry said in December that the crime rate in the police force, which retains its official Soviet-era misnomer “militia,” had risen 20 percent year on year.
The same month the leader of a rights group said, citing an anonymous opinion poll by the Regional Development Ministry, that 60 percent of crime victims preferred not to contact the police “because, as a result, there would be nothing but trouble and a waste of time while there is a risk of [threats] from persons who have been reported.”
Medvedev issued a decree in December to reform and downsize the police, whose criminal record includes violent crime and false convictions as well as bribes.
“There have recently been increasingly frequent violations of law and service discipline by militia personnel, which give rise to a justifiable negative public reaction and weaken the influence of state authority,” he said in the document.
The decree ordered a set of anti-corruption measures, including revision of “the procedure for the selection of candidates for service in [the police force] from the point of view of their moral, ethical and psychological characteristics,” rotation of senior police officials, “anti-corruption education programs” for “various categories” of police, and revision of the performance assessment system in the service.
Other measures prescribed by the decree were raising pay for police, who are notoriously low-paid, providing them with better housing, and reducing Russia's police personnel 20 percent by 2012.
The president followed up the move in February by firing 17 police generals, including two deputy interior ministers and eight regional police chiefs.
However, those who came to the March 6 rally, organized by various human rights and opposition groups and held on Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow, argued that Medvedev's measures were insufficient and raised demands that included firing Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, seriously raising pay for police and putting them under public control, and ending the practice of using police as a tool for political persecution.
They also demanded independent investigations into offenses by police reported by whistleblowers such as Alexei Dymovsky, who became famous in November after a series of YouTube videos in which he accused fellow police officers of crimes and urged Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to intervene.
Dymovsky, whose story was featured on Global Voices in November 2009, was discharged from the police, arrested in January on a charge of fraud, and released from custody over the weekend.
Supporters of Dymovsky recently set up a website, www.dymovskiy.name, on which they try to put lawlessness in the police force in the limelight.
There have been quite a lot of online comments on the police corruption problem and on the March 6 rally, most of their authors agreeing that a major reform is needed but some claiming there is not much wrong with the police and attacking reform advocates.
Government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta has published many comments on its website, and below are three of them.
I don't think that anything will change in our country because it isn't a disease of the police alone but a disease of the whole society. The police have just brought this into focus because they are before everyone's eyes. You just take a closer look and you'll see that one of the most worthless officials behaves as though he is the hub of the universe. And look at the president as well. Whereas in the States, the president has only two residences, ours has more than fifteen and is going to build another one, worth more than seven billion. And it will be located in a nature reserve as well, which is in gross violation of the law of the Russian Federation. And so any official, including those in the Interior Ministry, thinks as he is looking at all that: If it's allowed THERE, why shouldn't it be allowed to me? And smaller fry take the same path when they look at their superiors. So that's it, the circle has closed. What follows is one hand washing the other: would any of our ordinary traffic police be able to stop a car in which a ‘servant of the people’ is traveling? Or, least of all, bring him under prosecution for a road accident, even if it's one with a lethal outcome? Have there not been enough instances like that? And why the hell should that traffic policeman work honestly if he is simply forced to work like that? So I don't believe that anything will change in our country, or in the Interior Ministry either for that matter, because the main reasons remain in place. By the way, recently we had a ‘one-month campaign’ of fighting corruption, but has anything changed? The fight is over, but the officials are still there and they keep ‘fighting’ and getting pretty good salaries in their fighting committees. It is sad. The country has rotten away completely, and that cannot be put right by anyone or anything.
Ordinary Cop (apparently, a policeman):
I am a young [police] officer, I have been in the service for three years. I only joined the police because I had been denied jobs at law firms. They needed a higher education or a service record of three years. At that time I had just finished a vocational training school and had just done my draft military service. Being dependent on my parents wasn't my choice, and that's something any dude should be ashamed of anyway. At the moment I'm going to marry, and naturally I'm dreaming of having children. But the question arises, WILL MY SALARY BE ENOUGH TO KEEP THREE? Of course not. I'm lucky to have an apartment that my parents have given me. But many others rent apartments for months, something that will take up half their salary. So what does that lead to? A policeman who has been doing his duties honestly and conscientiously will take money [bribes] to bring home. Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want us to be pitied – we must meet standards twice as tough as anyone else and we must set an example, – but that is the real situation. I took my oath and I remain loyal to it to this day.
Voyenny, commenting on Medvedev's decree:
“You just wait, it'll all happen the way it did in the armed forces: They'll ruin all they haven't ruined yet, they'll keep their loyalists alone around and will pay bonuses to themselves and their henchmen so that everyone knows their place.”
In LiveJournal, Norlink says (RUS):
I've seen a video about a rally in Moscow for a reform (‘resetting’) of the police, and saw the poster ‘Fire Nurgaliyev!’
Would anyone explain to me please what wonderful benefits Nurgaliyev's dismissal would bring us?
Anyway, all this fuss with appeals for ‘major repairs of the police’ doesn't look particularly nice.
It's clear that under the current non-law-based system there can be no reforming of the Interior Ministry [i.e. the police service] other than adapting it to the growing need of those in authority to act with impunity.
I think it's just been a command from the Kremlin – earlier [pro-Kremlin youth group] Nashi has been used for this purpose but these days they are wiser.
Alexander_av comments on the rally in the namarsh_ru LJ community:
It's not that important whether it's 400 or 600 [in reference to discrepancies in reported turnout statistics]. It's still very little. This means an overwhelming majority of Moscow's population are satisfied with the police – that is apparently the conclusion that can be made.
Wityanya writes (RUS):
Of course, the brave Russian police do stand in the way of orthodox National Bolshevik movements, all those JUA's and Solidaritys, law-trampling anarchists and all that extremist rubbish. The police stop them from breaking all limits. But those bastards are few in number though they are loud-voiced, immoral and venal. The Russian people don't care a fig about them, nor do they support their appeals for chaos. The Russian people are working and building a new, effective economy for Russia, while those bastards hold rallies these days and there's nothing else they can do, just as their predecessors held rallies in 1917 and there was nothing else they could do. They have laziness in there genes… Not a single son-of-a-bitch will be able to blacken the image of the people's police no matter how hard they try.