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The Return of the Druzhiny

A ubiquitous feature of Soviet life was the institution of people’s druzhiny – ostensibly voluntary citizens’ neighborhood law-and-order patrols, instantly recognizable by the red armbands worn by the druzhinniki. Well, they’re back… with a faith-based twist. Here’s an exclusive translation of a recent article from the daily electronic newspaper Utro.ru.

ortho112408.jpgOrthodox druzhiny frighten human rights advocates

21 November, 10:54 | Lev DAVYDOV

Yesterday, it became known about how the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is getting ready to make its contribution to establishing order on the streets of Russian cities. Soon, Orthodox druzhiny may be setting about carrying out of this not-simple mission.

“We’ve got no small number of groupings, which today literally enslave the life of a street, a district, a small town, a village. And here, I consider, Orthodox druzhiny may establish order in their place of residence”, declared deputy head of the department of external ecclesiastical ties of the ROC, Vsevolod Chaplin. “Now alongside many church communities, parishes, there exist military-patriotic groups with good athletic training. They could manifest big civic activeness.” In the words of the clergyman,, in the work with respect to the creation of the druzhiny may take part all who desire.


It is planned that the rights of the Orthodox patrols will be the same as those of the people’s druzhinniki, who already exist in Russia. In particular, according to Muscovite legislation, a druzhinnik has the right to demand observance of public order, help the police check documents [checking identification documents (especially of persons who look Caucasian) seems to be one of the most important functions performed by Russian policemen, judging by the amount of time they spend on it–Ed.], confiscate implements for the commission of offenses, participate in the cordoning off of streets during the time of the conducting of mass undertakings.

“The MVD is interested in the assistance of any civic movements and amalgamations in the sphere of upholding public order in Russian population centers”, declared chief of the administration of public relations of the ministry Valery Gribalin. In his words, any proposals about the participation of the ROC in the protection of public order “will be considered by the leadership of the ministry in mandatory procedure.”Also ready to support the initiative of the church is the pro-Kremlin movement “Nashi”, and representatives of nationalistic organizations. Chairman of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration Alexander Belov told Utro that in his opinion, “it’s not bad when citizens independently engage in the protection of public order”.

However, Belov is not sure that this idea will be supported by the leadership of the ROC. “But if they’re going to organize druzhiny, then the idea is good. This is not prohibited by law, people want [to do it], why not. The law prescribes the creation of people’s druzhiny, it’s another matter that our law is a letdown,” considers the head of the MAII, clarifying that without a policeman, druzhinniki do not have the right to act, while the police doesn’t like the druzhinniki, because in their presence “it’s hard to take bribes”. “By the situation that will be developing next year, it will be impossible to get by without such a kind of druzhiny, because the swarms of Gastarbeiters thrown off of construction sites are going to go around robbing, snatching telephones, packets with food. Druzhinniki are needed”, summed up Belov.

In the meantime, druzhiny are already being created, reports Kommersant. Chief of the Moscow branch of the Union of Orthodox Citizens Kirill Frolov declared to the publication that the Missionary Society of the Holy Apostle Thomas is ready for the patrolling of streets. In the words of Frolov, from 1 December, patrols are going out to a street mission. “The druzhinniki will be carrying the image of civic peaceableness and interdict manifestations of extremism”, he added.

Representatives of human rights organizations are expressing themselves categorically against the manifestation on the streets of “images of civic peaceableness”. “To create such druzhiny – means to sign off on your own helplessness and about how the law-enforcement organs are refusing to keep tabs on order”, declared leader of the movement “For human rights” Lev Ponomarev. Head of the informational-analytical service of the movement Yevgeny Ikhlov reported to an Utro correspondent that his organization considers such an initiative “dangerous” on the strength of the underscored confessionality of the druzhiny being created.

“A druzina – this is after all assistance to the law-enforcement organs, who have corresponding powers in relation to citizens. They are already a part of the state. Our state is not religious, it is decidedly secular and separate from religion. The creation of such a druzhina, to which will be invited people only of the Orthodox faith-confession subordinated to the patriarchate (and this far from exhausts the Orthodox), signifies that the Moscow patriarchate is getting a privileged status, which strikes out the secular character of the state”, declared the human rights advocate.

Besides this, Ikhlov brings attention to the fact that following in the footsteps of the Orthodox druzhiny in Muslim regions may declare about the creation of Islamic patrols, motivating this by the need to struggle with Wahhabists. Inadmissible, in the opinion of the human rights advocate, is also the fact that signing up for the druzhiny will be primarily “boys and girls from militarized party structures”, as well as veterans of regional conflicts, “who, let’s put it this way, if not the psyche, then the nerves are strongly overloaded”.

This will lead to the unjustified application of force on the part of the druzhinniki, considers Yevgeny Ikhlov.Head of the committee “Civic assistance” Svetlana Gannushkina has proposed, if this is where things are heading, to foster peaceableness in people with the assistance of Buddhist people’s druzhiny. In the opinion of the human rights advocate, Buddhists “are more peaceful and very pleasant”. To Orthodox clergymen, Gannushkina has advised to better explain to their flock “that everyone answers for what takes place on the streets of his city”.