Monday, July 20, 2020

Even Looking at a Policeman the Wrong Way Now a Crime in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – A young man walking past FSB headquarters in Moscow was arrested two days ago despite the fact that he was not participating in any protest or doing anything in violation of normal laws. Instead, Sergey Desnitsky was detained because the police thought he was looking at them was threatening and thus illegal. 

            Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko recounts the story: Desnitsky was walking along. Colonel Aleksandr Makhonin approached him and said “I saw your actions?” The young man replied “I was simply looking at a policeman.” “You like him,” Makhonin joked, to which Desnitsky responded “I have the right to look at a policeman because his activities are public” (

            That was enough or rather too much for the colonel and so Desnitsky had to be detained, admittedly completely illegally because the young man had not engaged in any protest activity unless looking at a policeman in way the policeman doesn’t like is now a crime. And apparently in Putin’s Russia, it is.

            “It is possible,” Yakovenko continues, “that in the unique subculture of the Russian police there exists something like a taboo on outsiders looking at the faces of policemen, something like the ban in the Aladdin story about looking directly at the face of Princess Jasmine or the sense among some animals that a look is by itself an indication of a looming attack.

            In Russia today, he says, it has become very risky to look at the executors of the will of those in power.  One can get in trouble more easily than one imagines because the police don’t have to answer for their repressive actions against the population and thus can dream up new reasons for engaging in such things.

            Many Russians, of course, have only positive thoughts about policemen like Makhonin. After all, they catch criminals and protect many. And they may even display human qualities as the colonel did in his interaction with Desnitsky right up to the moment when Makhonin’s subordinates led him away.

            “There is no doubt that even among SS officers and among the jailors of the GULAG one could have encountered besides sadists, people who carried out their executioners’ responsibilities without fanaticism. Perhaps, it even happened that some of them gave a drop of water to the condemned before shooting them.”

            One should take these differences among the repressors seriously, Yakovenko says. “Undoubtedly, Makhonin deserves to be given a more comfortable cell with all conveniences” after he too is arrested for his crimes.  Those he arrested for looking at a policeman the wrong way may not agree, but perhaps even they can be persuaded. 

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