By Paul Goble
A significant part of the voluntary popular ‘druzhinniki’ that regional officials in Russia are recruiting to supplement the professional militia consist of Cossacks or members of nationalist groups, a pattern that is raising concerns among many Russians about whether such people will act on their impulses or be used by the powers that be.
Among the places where such units have been introduced is Tyumen, Olesya Lobanova reports in “Nezavisimaya gazeta.” And there, she notes, “society is concerned how [these units] will look after the legal order in the oblast center” and whether they will “defend citizens regardless of their nationality” (www.ng.ru/regions/2010-11-23/5_tyumen.html).
In order to take part in the druzhinniki, Lobanova reports, young nationalists join Cossack voluntary formations, a move that is made easier by the fact that on their own, “many Cossacks, without being much concerned about concealing it, support nationalist attitudes among the local population.”
Aleksey Chubka, a “White Pride” Russian nationalist who leads a group of some 30 people, said that “in order to take part in patrols, it was [only] necessary to fulfill a minimum condition – to show up at the staff of the Cossacks and listen to the basic instructions.” In short, officials did not try to exclude those who might be inclined to racism or violence.
The druzhinniki patrols currently take place in the center of the city at night, Lobanova continued. “A patrol of seven people – two Cossacks and five nationalists – help the militia to struggle against violators of the legal order,” but that statistic alone – far more open nationalists than traditionalist Cossacks – is by itself cause for concern.
The nationalists, who see such actions as “a manifestation of civic activity,” range from members of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) to “more radical groups” like Resistance and White Pride, some of whose members have advocated the use of violence against immigrants and other minorities.
“What seriously agitates Tyumen residents,” the journalist reports, is that “the druzhinnik are given the chance ‘to get involved in real actions, albeit all entirely within the law.” But the way in which such people may interpret the law is an open question given their hostility to “immigrants and the homeless.”
Andrey Kutuzov, a participant of the local Council of Initiative Groups and citizens, says that the use of such people is an insult to “all other movements as well as to simply apolitical citizens” because it implies that the powers that be are on the side of the nationalists and are prepared to support their actions rather than to rein them in.
When officials play with nationalists in this way in the name of maintaining order, Kutuzov says, “it is very well known how [that] ends: with pogroms, ethnic purges and a heightened degree of hatred in society.”
Tyumen political scientist Andrey Semenov clearly agrees but sees what is happening in broader terms. He connects what officials there are doing with “the failure of social policy in several areas.” First of all, he suggests, there has been a failure in the security area: “citizens do not trust the militia and therefore are taking on themselves these functions.”
Second, he continues, there have been failures in education: “young people are not being taught fundamental things: the Constitution, the culture of peaceful co-existence, and respect for others. And third, there have been shortcomings in media work: propaganda “cannot replace enlightenment in any way.”
Semenov said that while “the protection of public order on a voluntary basis is a noble thing,” if the druzhinniki “persecute ‘non-Russians,’ they themselves will become criminals.” And because of that danger to society and to the state itself, everyone should be paying more careful attention to this trend.
Lobanova focuses on developments in only one city, but the phenomenon she describes, the use of nationalists in these volunteer militias, is increasingly widespread. Indeed, another article in “Nezavisimaya” today notes that the Kuban governor has “called upon Cossack atamans to help the militia” (www.ng.ru/regions/2010-11-23/5_kuban.html).