Time for a U-turn
Alexander Rostarchuk, Dmitry Zlenko
Reforms to the police force initiated six months ago have not moved forward an inch unless you consider the chatter of lobbyists as effective action. Moreover, none of the reformers planned to do anything about the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate. Of course, everyone recognises that Russia’s traffic police are corrupt, incompetent and useless. But how do you cure the country of this elephantine tumour? Is it possible? Or, may be it would make sense to follow the example of Georgia and Ukraine, which simply disbanded their traffic police forces and rebuilt them from scratch.
If we streamline the 100,000-strong army of baton-twirling loafers into compact flying squads unencumbered with redundant administrative functions and powers, our roads could indeed become safer.
The traffic police would be able to shed the ballast of 40,000 or 50,000 incompetent and corrupt staff, leaving the rest with doubled or even tripled salaries to patrol the roads with an equivalent boost in enthusiasm. From now on, the number of accidents on a given stretch of the road should be the sole measure of their performance. Reducing the accident rate is the only job we actually want the traffic police to do.
The web versus courts
Maria Glushenkova, Petr Rushailo
On March 5, traffic police stopped several cars on Moscow’s ring road, asked the drivers to form a roadblock and did not allow them to leave their cars. Several minutes later, a speeding Audi rammed through the improvised barrier and raced away. The public learnt about the accident only because one of the motorists posted a video of the event on a website. Experts agree that cases of damage inflicted by government officials outnumber lawsuits filed by citizens for compensation. It seems that the main obstacles to suing the government are price and procedure. It takes money to hire a lawyer and a lot of time to take the government to court. When the expected damages are approximately $1,000, few will bother. On top of that, it’s highly probable that the ruling will go against them (as in many other situations when individuals try to force authorities to adhere to the law). Far easier and more cost-effective to make oneself heard and find help on the web. So forget about court settlements and buy a car video camera (get them online for about £140). They continuously record visual data and sound, even in the dark. If you are a victim of abuse, you can post the footage on the web. It is simpler than suing and cheaper than legal fees.
Motorists become a strong force
For two weeks, Russia has been debating a traffic accident on Gagarin Square in central Moscow. On February 25, 2010, two women were killed when their Citroen collided with an armoured Mercedes carrying a senior manager from LUKoil, a major Russian oil company. The police immediately blamed one of the women for causing the accident.
Had it not been for the outbursts among motorists, the accident might have passed unnoticed. But in this particular case popular feeling was running high, and patience spent, with the government in the firing line.
Ironically, unrest is burgeoning not in crisis-stricken workplaces or in the swarming unemployment offices, but on the roads. Today, motorists represent a force that can express and channel the anger of the Russian middle class.
Unbridled abuse from the traffic police breeds public mistrust and hatred towards the authorities, who should have simply conducted an honest investigation of the above accident and share the results openly instead of covering things up to avoid irritating the big shots involved. I will not be surprised if a motorist group comes into existence to become the most powerful, inclusive and popular movement in Russia.
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