Staunton, November 19 – The reappearance of popular militias or “druzhinniki” as they are known in Russia is creating problems in many places because of questions about their financing, subordination to the regular police force, and the ways in which these informal organizations may be used by regional officials or Moscow against the population.
Not surprisingly, many in the Russian Federation and especially in non-Rusians areas where many of the druzhinniki are Cossacks, with whom Russians in general and non-Russians in particular have anything but happy relationships, have opposed their formation out of fear as to how the druzhinniki will be used.
Such popular militias emerged more or less spontaneously at the start of the Soviet era but were suppressed after the Bolsheviks won the Civil War. Then they appeared again in Leningrad in 1955-1957 before their use was approved by Moscow for the Soviet Union as a whole in 1959.
Between then and the end of Soviet times, they spread rapidly; and in 1984, there were more than 280,000 druzhinniki units in which some 13 million people participated. On a daily basis at that time, as many as 400,000 were deployed by the authorities. They were disbanded in 1991 following the Russian government’s ban on the CPSU and the dissolving of the Komsomol.
In April 2014, the Russian parliament adopted a new law “on the participation of citizens in the preservation of public order” which called for the restoration of the druzhinniki to “defend the life, health, honor and dignity of the individual, property, [as well as] the interests of society and the state.”
Immediately, many suspected that such druzhinniki might be used for anything but the defense of the rights of the individual and instead for the protection of the state and its officials against any challenge and that these groups because they are not formally part of the state would allow the regime deniability if things went wrong.
In a commentary on the CaucasusTimes portal, Maykop journalist Marina Asheva describes how things have proceeded in the Republic of Adygeya, one of the 36 regions where druzhinniki have been organized where there are already some 81 people enrolled in seven “people’s druzhinniki” organizations (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21519).
The republic authorities say, she reports, that the druzhinniki will be used to maintain public order during mass demonstrations and that to that end, groups of them will be organized in every population point of the republic. But despite such declarations, “it is not clear” just what these groups will do, who is financing them, and what their relations are to the authorities.
Many Adygeys fear that the druzhinniki will be used to repress them, especially since many of those who have joined or want to join the groups are not Adygeys but rather Cossacks or ethnic Russians. And they say that the republic authorities may see the druzhinniki as allies who will keep the current officials protected.
Adygey (Circassian) activist Zaur Dzeukozhev says that there is no need for such groups given that there exist “numerous law enforcement” bodies already. He added that it is unlikely that any Adygeys will take part in them, something that leaves the titular nationality of the republic in potentially serious trouble.
The Caucasus Times journalist says that she has learned “from sources in the government” that the druzhinniki will be doing more than maintaining order at demonstrations and patrolling the streets. They have been charged, she says, with “collecting information about civic activists,” including information from online social networks.
That, she says, has convinced many Adygeys that the druzhinniki are not intended to help protect them but only to protect the interests of Moscow and its representatives in the republic, an attitude that if widespread may point to trouble ahead anywhere the powers that be choose to deploy these deniable formations.