In England, unless you’re doing something wrong, policemen make you feel safer. In Russia, policemen make you feel less safe. They fulfil an inverse function, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation amongst law abiding citizens, whilst protecting criminals from the law. I often wonder whether they commit more crimes than they prevent.
The variety of law enforcement creatures is dazzling. There are young boys in great coats and pretty boots. These ones move slowly with their hands behind their backs and their hips further forward than their head. Those blessed with the largest heads are presented with a uniform of blue camouflage. They waddle with their arms out to the side like they’re wet. There are the storm troopers covered in plastic plates. They can hurt people without hurting themselves. My personal favourites are the slobs in faded green slacks. I was lucky enough to see them at work in an office when I had a problem with my visa. The whole afternoon they were ogling pictures of woman with tops on, incompetent even in their lechery.
In Russia, the logic of law-enforcement is shockingly flawed. They recruit the nastiest humans in the country, give them guns and black sticks, give them carte blanche to do what they like and pay them peanuts. It is a recipe for disaster and disasters are frequent.
The police carry black batons of remarkable length. A phallic interpretation is not misplaced. A few months ago a man was arrested in Kazan on his way to the shop having forgotten his documents. He was taken in and raped with a champagne bottle. Two days later he died from his injuries. The officers involved were initially not held accountable because there were no cameras and his injuries were “self-inflicted”. Action was only taken after nationwide outrage and street protests.
The worst thing about the police is that they are painfully ubiquitous. When you go to a football match, it feels like policemen and soldiers are the home fans and civilians are the away fans. They even keep reserve forces in large steel cattle trucks.
When I was in St. Petersburg at Christmas, returning to my hotel one day I found that Nevsky Prospect was completely shut off by policemen. I assumed there was a bomb scare or the President was passing through. There were armed policemen everywhere. A bit further along, civilians were allowed to stand on the pavement, although the road was ringe-fenced by armed police and soldiers. When one of them told me that Father Christmas was coming, I thought I’d misheard. 20 minutes went by, and then suddenly, it was him. Led by a convoy of 20 police cars with flashing lights, Santa sped past and was gone in an instant. A straggle of children marched behind, followed by another long convoy of police cars and soldiers. I know full well that Father Christmas is an unpredictable, unsavoury character, but they could have kept him under control with a mere fraction of the police presence. Perhaps they were trying to intimidate him so he never returns. Whatever the intentions, the Christmas spirit was successfully strangled.
When I was young and foolish, a few weeks ago, I was outside having a drink. It was hot and I thought I might take off my shirt like Jesus. Russia is strongly Orthodox. A few minutes went by and I heard footsteps behind me. I looked round and was unhappy to see one of the slobs in green slacks. He had his stick out. His face was as shapely as a cheese, with deep pock marks and crumbling corners. Overweight and wheezing heavily, he was a far from threatening individual, but his stick was his saving grace. Long black and magnificent, it helped to cast his many defects far from mind. I essentially entered into conversation with his stick. He took my driving licence and started to shout that I was drunk and on drugs. I said that I wasn’t on drugs and I most certainly wasn’t drunk and this was the honest truth. He radioed to his friends. I really didn’t like the idea of more sticks on the way and the Kazan incident came to mind. I pulled out a thousand rubles. When he saw the flash of green his eyes lit up. The tables had turned. The stick was lowered, my driving licence was returned and he promised me that no more sticks were coming. I held the money at arm’s length and slowly backed away. He took the money and I took my freedom, both happy with a good deal.
In Russia the police used to be called “The Militsia”. In 2010 Medvedev rebranded them “The Police” to try and change their image and make them more user friendly. I don’t find them friendly and I try to avoid using them. I hope they never have the chance to use me.