Stefan McDaniel over at First Things approves of the civilian patrols that are making a comeback in Russia. He calls them examples of “old-fashioned democratic action that has nothing to do with ballot boxes or liberal rights.”
I’m prejudiced toward any argument that disparages liberalism, but after a thorough read-through of the Times article he links to I’m a little less sanguine than McDaniel is about this apparent victory for localism. McDaniel does not mention that the success of the druzhiniki has led to a movement to give them more power:
In Soviet days. . . they could detain people on misdemeanor charges and write traffic tickets, and they were compensated if injured while on patrol. For the most part, today’s druzhiniki get little outside of free public transportation and the red armband.
“We should be working on those issues that the police simply don’t have time for, like small street crimes and crime prevention,” Mr. Kharlamov said.
The new legislation, which will probably come up for hearings in Russia’s Parliament this spring, would institute the druzhiniki on a federal level and allow them to impose fines for failure to obey their orders and provide compensation for injuries suffered while on patrol. Legislators have even debated the possibility of allowing the volunteers to carry weapons like batons or stun guns.
Understandably enough, not everybody thinks this is a good idea:
Critics. . . worry that this emboldened civilian police force could easily succumb to the corruption that already pervades Russia’s law enforcement agencies.
“If today we already have problems controlling our police, what happens when we create a far less trained, less disciplined and less controlled structure?” said Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Moscow-based human rights organization Memorial. “What we will get is this obscure formation beyond the control of the police that will ultimately merge with criminal elements.”
This seems pretty plausible. Of course my view of Russian society represents a wholesale internalization of the Western caricature, so I must defer to Michael: Effective self-rule has cultural prerequisites. Are contemporary Russians, generally speaking, free enough from the cynicism, cruelty, and selfishness encouraged by communism to avoid the temptation to corruption on a massive scale?