Right now, the law enforcement folks are called милиция (literally, “militia”). In Russian, like in English, the main meaning of the word is a voluntary group of untrained citizens mustered in times of emergency. But in 1917, the Provisional Government liquidated the tsarist полиция (police), and to show that they were on the side of the people, they instituted народная милиция (the people’s militia) in its place. In 1919, Lenin signed a decree “О советской рабоче-крестьянской милиции” (on the Soviet workers’ and peasants’ militia). Although “Soviet,” “workers” and “peasants” have disappeared from the name, милиция stuck.
It’s the notion of “voluntary, untrained and unprofessional” in the word милиция that President Dmitry Medvedev and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev are referring to in their comments on the name change. For example, Nurgaliyev said: “Что такое полиция? Это профессиональное сообщество профессионалов.” (What’s the police? It’s a professional community of professionals.) And Medvedev said, in part, that the милиция was: ” … по сути, дружинники в погонах. Но нам нужны профессиональные люди.” (… in essence, volunteer citizen patrols in epaulets. But we need professionals.) OK, we got it. Key word: профессионализм (professionalism).