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Grigory Pasko: Epaulets, Uniforms, and the Proliferation of Official Dress in Russia

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Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people in Russia wear a military or militarized form of dress. Although, common sense would dictate that they shouldn’t be wearing the uniform. For example, security guards or doctors, journalists or jurists. BUT in the cities and towns of Russia you can often encounter people in clothing that is incomprehensible, but obviously in military style. These people wear trousers with stripes with gaps on them, they wear epaulets – also with gaps.

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But the life of Russians doesn’t become any brighter from the quantity of gaps on trouser stripes and on epaulets.

Somebody once calculated that with the coming to power of the chekists, the number of people in uniform in our country increased sharply – to as many as eight (!) million people. Moreover, it’s increased not in the army and on the fleet, as might have been thought or assumed (there has actually been a reduction there), but in various incomprehensible structures. For example, in security-guard services. All these PSFs [Private Security Firms] – what is this? Or narcocontrol. Or customs. Or the MChS [The Ministry for Affairs of Civil Defense, Extraordinary Situations and Liquidation of Consequences of Elemental Calamities, usually shortened to “Ministry of Emergency Situations” in English–Trans.]. Why are these siloviki structures in our country? Or the FSB? Why do they wear uniforms and have ranks?

I have already written not once about the non-compliance with the Geneva convention of the very fact of the existence in our country of military jurists, journalists, athletes, medical workers. It looks like only current minister of defense of the RF Serdyukov agreed with me. Recently I learned that a mass removal of the uniform from many categories of military service personnel is going on, in particular from military journalists and military medical personnel.

Or let us take …the police. You don’t think, after all, that the 1 mln. people in the mousy uniform – this is people who won’t be able to fulfill their everyday duties without this uniform? Of course you don’t think that. And you, of course, know that it’s not about the uniform: a uniform – this is also rank (and a pay supplement for rank), and secrecy (and a pay supplement for that), and duty shift rotations (and pay supplements for these), and «special conditions of bearing service» [American equivalent: “hardship” or “hazardous duty” (and a pay supplement for these)–Trans.], and a whole bunch of other things I don’t remember and don’t know. There are in the police people who have dealings only with little pieces of paper. Walk into any REO-MREP-MOTOTRER. (For those who aren’t in a tank, I’ll decipher: REO – registration-examination department; MREO – inter-rayon registration-examination department; MOTOTRER – inter-rayon department of technical inspection of transport and registration-examination work). A bunch of majors-captains carrying-receiving-shuffling LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER. Give ’em a pistol – they’ll show surprise. At best they’ll ask what this is. I’m not even talking about «shooting». In a typical MOTOTRER – around two hundred police officers [“officers” in the military sense: colonels, majors, etc.–Trans.]. I know places where their duties are more and more often being fulfilled by …women. Without any uniforms. Ranks. Pay supplements. Duty shift rotations. And the main thing – without any loss in the quality of work!

… Remember the joke. After the cold war began a hot one. Two well-known countries exchanged nuclear strikes. Nobody won. For a decisive blow by one of the sides, just one little bomb would be enough. And here they report to the USSR marshal from somewhere beyond Baikal: we’re finally ready to fire. The marshal wipes the sweat from his sheepskin hat and says: no, we can’t be beat.

If all these «military» types of ours are there for a belated shot at the enemy – then, of course, we need to carefully safeguard them, nurture and coddle them. Sew them new trouser stripes and drill holes in epaulets.

But there is another proposal too. There’s a crisis in the world, everybody’s thinking where to look for reserves. But we’ve got a long-established and stable reserve: we simply need to pare the siloviki down to the bone. And for a start – to take the uniform off them.

To deprive them of the opportunity to get different supplements to their pay and extra payments. Let them walk around in civilian clothes. Without gaps on the epaulets and indeed without epaulets. From this it will become brighter in the country in all senses. You’ll see.

Some numbers (unofficial source)

the manpower of the army together with contract soldiers, conscripts … – 2.247.000
officers, warrant officers and conscripts of the border troops and anti-aircraft defense – 1.275.000
staff employees of the FSB, FAPSI, FSO, other various and sundry chekists – 1.458.000
the staff of the MFA and state institutions abroad – 782.000
staff employees of the MChS, MVD, Internal Forces, Minjust and the Procuracy – 2.246.000
workers of the customs, tax and other inspectorates, etc. – 1.492.000
white-collar employees of various federal ministries and agencies – 1.695.000
employees of the apparats of power structures with [legislative] deputies – 1.370.000
officials of all sorts of licensing, control, inspection and permitting-registration organs – 1.371.000.