Moscow Patriarchate Floats Idea of "Orthodox Militia," Opponents Warn of Possible Vigilantism, Inter-Religious Conflict

(November 24, 2008)

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has proposed setting up "Orthodox militias" (druzhiny) in order to "keep order" on the streets, according to a November 20, 2008 report by the Sova Information-Analytical Center. Church spokesman Father Vsevolod Chaplin pitched the idea to the MVD, which is reviewing the proposal. He argued in a recent radio interview that: "We have a lot of people and groups who could... bring order in the places where they live, and through that bring order to all of Russia." Valery Girbakin, an MVD official, seemed to discourage the idea (though he did not rule it out categorically) by pointing out that there are no laws governing the use of druzhiny, a concept developed in the late Soviet period that involved local citizens, some armed with clubs, helping police, though usually not getting directly involved in the apprehension of criminals. Whether such a concept could lead to vigilante justice in the more unstable and violent climate of post-Soviet Russia is an open question.

At least one predominantly Muslim organization, the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, blasted the initiative, expressing worry that it could lead to even more inter-religious conflict. Svetlana Gannushkina, a refugee rights advocate, reacted by saying that the Church should concentrate on instilling moral values in parishioners in order to reduce crime, while human rights advocate Lev Ponomaryov added that the proposal is one more step towards society admitting that the government is helpless to control crime, and therefore a de facto call for vigilantism.

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Copyright 2007 by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.