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Analysis & Opinion
09.11.09 Petitioning The Tsar
By Roland Oliphant

A Krasnodar Region police officer made headlines over the weekend when he posted an online video appealing to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to tackle endemic corruption, poor working conditions and abusive superiors in the police. Major Alexei Dymovsky was fired for “libeling” his employers after his video went viral on the Russian Internet in just a few days. But none of what he has said, or the way in which he said it, is particularly new.

It’s not a sensational video. A thickset blonde man with a lugubrious voice sits on a sofa in front of a plain blue wall and speaks, sometimes ramblingly, sometimes monotonously, for just over seven minutes. There is no footage of government abuse. No police murders. No “kompromat” of the kind that can end political careers.

But despite this, and despite the wearing familiarity of the sorrows he describes, major Dymovksy’s appeal to the prime minister on behalf of “simple police officers” has become the news story of the moment. Perhaps because there is not much else going on, or perhaps, suggest some on the Internet, because there are shadowy forces behind him. Either way, his criticism has become embarrassing enough for the Krasnodar Region police to fire him, and for Federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to order an investigation. (Whether that investigation is into the truth of Dymovsky’s allegations, or how a serving police officer was allowed to make such embarrassing claims, has not been announced).

Petitioning the tsar, or in this case Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, is a tradition that has been resurrected in recent times. Putin’s near-legendary response to the plight of the citizens of Pikalyovo only cemented faith in his ability – and his willingness to help -- if only he knew about them. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can get Putin to fling a pen at an oligarch.

Dymovsky certainly needs help. He has been sacked for “libeling” his employers, and he has told journalists that he has sent his pregnant wife to Moscow for fear of reprisals. Dymovsky said that enemies in the Interior Ministry might “frame me with heroin or forged money,” the Svobodnaya Pressa Web site reported Monday.

Putin doesn’t look like he will be riding to Dymovsky’s rescue anytime soon, however. The citizens of Pikalyovo blocked a federal highway before they got Putin’s attention, and he only turned up there because that incident threatened to provide the spark that could trigger social unrest across the country’s crisis-hit one-company towns.

Dymovsky, a lone police major who has been off work since August with a bad arm, doesn’t have that kind of pistol to hold to the state’s head.

Or does he? Russia’s police have been the subject of increasing public ire over the past year, over corruption, incompetence, and psychotic killing sprees. And two of Dymovsky’s main complaints – low pay and endemic corruption – are widely acknowledged to be linked. Police are corrupt because they are poorly paid, say many commentators (and many police officers). Raise wages and you will attract better qualified people who will have less economic incentive to accept or extort bribes. Surely that relatively easy step would appeal to the prime minister’s taste for grandstanding?

This has not been a good year for the Russian police. In April, police Major Denis Yevsyukov killed two people and injured seven others in a drunken shooting rampage in a Moscow supermarket. The Moscow police chief was promptly fired, but that hardly made the problem go away; the shooting came on the same day five other officers were arrested for involvement in extortion, and amidst the public anger over the murders, allegations emerged that the relatively young major had bought his rank in an auction.

Then in May this year, Chairman of the Supreme Court Vycheslav Lebedev and Ministry of Justice Chief Alexander Konovalov presented a report on the first year of that fight, in which they singled out the Interior Ministry as the most corrupt institution. In October another officer, this time in the Tuva region, went on a shooting spree, killing two colleagues before turning his gun on himself. In the same month two senior policemen in the far-eastern republic of Buryatia were arrested in connection with a smuggling case.

So to say that public trust in the police is low would be an understatement. And if Dymovsky was simply saying “what nearly every police worker feels in Russia,” as Mikhail Pashkin of the Moscow police union told the Echo of Moscow radio station on Saturday, then morale in the force itself cannot be much higher.

Officers themselves tend to blame low pay for their poor reputation. “Because it is unrealistic to live on that money honestly, we spin it as much as we can,” one police captain identified only as Sergey V. told the Bolshoi Gorod magazine following the Yevsyukov shootings. “You can rob a drunk; you can stop a car for traffic violations, though in theory it is only the traffic police who have the authority; you can plant drugs on someone,” he continued. He went on to explain how his team systematically extorted money from unlicensed traders at railway stations.

This relationship between low wages and corruption is well understood. “The main reason for corruption amongst employees of the Interior Ministry is that the state does not fulfill all of its social obligations,” said Kirill Kabanov, the chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, an NGO. “And that doesn’t just mean paying wages; there is housing, there are bank loans to pay off.”

Dymovsky couched his appeal in terms of helping Putin understand the problems of “simple” and dedicated policemen, “who investigate and solve crimes.” In accordance with one of the unwritten laws of petitioning authority, he paraded his patriotic credentials and celebrated his service rather than denigrate it (“I don’t want to retire,” he said more than once, “I love my work”), so he did not say that low wages justified extorting money. But he did spend much of his video complaining about intolerable working conditions: a wage of just 14,000 rubles ($483), thirty working days a month and compulsory unpaid overtime, combined with bullying and coercive senior officers.

Presidents, prime ministers and State Duma deputies have been talking about breaking this cycle of impoverishment and thus corruption in the police for years. Unfortunately for Dymovsky, his colleagues, and the public they supposedly serve, no one has got around to doing anything. And there has been so much talk and so little action that Kabanov has concluded that there is a good reason for that. “Corrupt employees are beneficial to a corrupt system,” he said. “You can make a corrupted employee do anything you want to resolve your problem.”
The source
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