Russian Police Bill to Come into Force Next Spring
04 November, 2010

Last Friday President Medvedev submitted to the lower house of parliament a draft federal law ‘On Police’ that goes in line with his plans to reform Russian law enforcement system.


The Police Bill was first made public in early August, when it was published at www.zakonoproekt2010.ru in a bid to make the presidential initiative transparent and open to discussions.
Such a step was quite unusual for the lawmaking practice and was intended to show the new approaches had been introduced by the President in his frequently-proclaimed policy to fight corruption through the rule of law.
The bill was cautiously praised by the ruling party and rigorously criticized by the opposition and human right organizations. The main reaction though was caused simply by the proposed renaming of the law enforcement body. ‘Militia’, as the Ministry of Interior is called now, is a word inherited from the Soviet era, where it was used to underline the people’s democracy in action. The word has always been used in contradistinction with ‘capitalist police’ in the West that served the ruling class to oppress the population.

 


Ironically, it’s now the ‘police’ concept as a non-corrupt body protecting citizens that is offered to replace the repressions-associated ‘militia’.
Thus once again, the government has played a good trick. The ‘rebranding’ being the most popular topic for discussion, other issues raised in the press also lack substance. Those commentators who leave the renaming aside, concentrate on unimportant amendments to the initial texts and praise the very fact that the public was involved in ‘tracking changes’ online and that the readers now can see the editor’s marks in the bill submitted to State Duma.
The human rights activists, instead, are comparing the new bill to the existing legislation and find no conceptual difference. ‘A very small step towards the change we really need’ - Lyudmila Alekseeva called it in a radio interview immediately after the bill was presented, concluding that ‘the Ministry of Interior will just undergo minor cosmetic surgery’. The head of Moscow Helsinki Group argues that the main principle of existence of police will remain unchanged. The police will continue to serve as a power tool to support government, while its real purpose should be preventing the violation of the rights of the citizens.


Currently the Ministry of Interior is widely acknowledged as an example of failed public institution. It is plagued by corruption and incompetence, and President Medvedev has taken a huge responsibility (if not a grave error) by staking his political future on improving Russian law enforcement. The situation is the one that simply cannot be improved by the Police Bill only. The problem has developed over time and not during Medvedev’s term in the office.
The Police Bill will come into force on March 1, 2011. Will this be an imitation of a reform, or crucial change is still possible in Russia? In any case, there is no time for half-answers in Moscow. Russia urgently needs to follow the transformation steps of the post-socialism countries such as Hungary or Poland if the leadership really wants to confirm the civilized paradigm.
By the way, the model police reform that was successfully introduced in Georgia did not go unnoticed in Russia. From the time when SAI, the notorious road department, was abolished five years ago, and up to date, when the police enjoys the highest ever level of public confidence, Russian press has been eyeing the progress of the reform and its consequences.
This summer only, Vano Merabishvili, Georgian Minister of Interior, was interviewed several times by leading newspapers, followed by the reports of special correspondents sent to check his words in the field.


I would not say that the reform in Georgia has inspired anyone in Russian Government, but at least those who are advocating for changes got hold of a success story in the neighboring state (where the law enforcement system was once generally acknowledged as the most corrupt among ex-Soviet countries).