Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeThe Journal of Power Institutions...Issue 13Police Brutality & Police Reform ...« […] Local police officers are a...

Police Brutality & Police Reform in Russia and the CIS - Conversations (2)

« […] Local police officers are accused of violence […] but case officers have an opportunity to commit acts of violence with impunity » - Interview with Ekaterina Khozhdaeva, Associate Professor in Sociology, Kazan State Technical University, conducted in Paris, 3 April 2012

Anne Le Huérou and Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

Index terms


Russia, Tatarstan

Research Fields:

Top of page

Editor’s notes is grateful to Irina Tcherneva who transcripted this interview and to Irina Stepanova who translated it into English.

Full text

1PIPSS.ORG - Could you introduce yourself?

2Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: I work in Kazan State Technological University, which is now known as Kazan National Research Technological University, Department of Sociology, Political Science and Management. As soon as I realised, that I was a social scientist (it happened in my fourth year at the University), I decided to specialise in empirical studies. My first topic was mass media in Tatarstan. It was the topic of my thesis. Simultaneously, we started researching the extent of religious tendencies among young people, first with a focus on the Muslim identity and by the late 2000s we covered all young people. As you know it is difficult to conduct regional research in Russia independently, researchers cannot concentrate on one topic only, because it is difficult to receive grants. That is why we are often invited to take part in other research studies. I have participated in many research projects.

Studying the relation between the police and the migrants

  • 1 V. Voronkov, B. Gladarev, L. Sagitova, Militsiia i etnicheskie migranty :praktiki vzaimodeistviia, (...)

3In 2007 we worked in collaboration with the Centre for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg which was headed by Viktor Voronkov. Viktor Voronkov together with Boris Gladarev, who worked for the Centre at the time, initiated a comparative study of the police activities in Kazan and St-Petersburg1. Boris has been studying this topic for a long time.

4I remember going to St-Petersburg to discuss the subject for the first time. We discussed the relationship between the police and ethnic migrants in Kazan. We came to a conclusion that the regime of co-existence of police and migrants was more lenient. There was not considerable xenophobia among police officers (militia at the time) in relation to this group. It was our supposition.

5We were talking about the status of migrants, who mainly came from Central Asia and the Caucasus. There are no Georgians or Armenians among migrants. They come from Azerbaijan and Central Asia, mainly from Uzbekistan. The Muslim factor and linguistic affinity (the research was based on that, that was why we had chosen Kazan) allows for the construction of positive adaptive strategies by the receiving society and consequently, as we suggested, the police regime would be more lenient.

6PIPSS.ORG - Was it your first contact with the police?

7Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes. Our research team was very different from the research team from St-Petersburg, which mainly consisted of male members. Our team was represented by three researchers – Lilia Sagitova, senior researcher, Olga Maksimova and I. None of us had worked with the police before. For us it was a chance to get that experience. I remember our meeting at the beginning of the project. Boris provided us with a large amount of literature, including first of all publications by the Public Verdict Fund, articles by Asmik Novikova and his publications. None of us read this literature, which was our conscious decision.

8We decided that we would only read the laws. We read all legal documents regulating the activities of the groups we were researching – precinct police officers and the Police Patrol Service. The research was based on that. We read the rest of the publications later.

9PIPSS.ORG - You didn’t read any foreign literature either?

10Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: No. We assumed that literature on the police activities was mainly critical. First of all it represents the view of the human rights movement. We wanted to be impartial and to conduct the research from a point of view of a naive social scientist or an idiot asking questions. Call it as you wish. Luckily we were all women, the power dynamics between the genders imply that a woman always asks questions and a man answers. We performed this task perfectly. It was crucial that Lilia Sagitova had managed to obtain authorisation to make observations of the police. The research was mainly based on observance, it was important for us to get the feel of their professional life. We started to observe in February, it lasted for half a year.

11PIPSS.ORG - How did you get the authorization to make these observations?

12Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: […] It was authorised by the then deputy minister Zigitdinov. At the moment he does not work at the local administration. Lilia Borisovna managed to get authorisation. It clearly stated which area we could work in. For our research this district is not very interesting. It is a residential district. We wanted to conduct the research in the centre, where there is a market and interaction with migrants is more active.

13This is a showpiece and more or less quiet district. It does not mean though that there are no violations. It means that the police there act more in accordance with the law, and the police officers are selected on a different basis. The strategy was as follows: Lilia met the precinct chief and he provided us with a list of all local police officers.

  • 2 E. Khozhdaeva, « « Chastnoe » i « Publichnoie » v prostranstvennoi organizatsii povsednevnykh prakt (...)

14We talked to all of them about the specifics of their districts, the quantity of migrants, if there were problems. The senior police officers knew our topic of research but we said to the local staff that we were interested in a wide range of topics. We said that we were social scientists interested in the life of ordinary police officers, how they worked, what problems they faced etc. It was a conscious decision, as we did not want to focus on the relationships with migrants only. It enabled us to show the status of this group among other control groups. I wrote an article on that2. I write that it is not the most significant factor.

15PIPSS.ORG – But is it significant only during special campaigns targeting migrants?

16Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes. It becomes active only during campaigns. With regards to day-to-day work it is one of the control groups, which is perceived by local police officers and the Police Patrol Service (PPS) to a lesser extent as mildly criminal. We visited all 4-5 of the chosen districts (I chose district 4 and Lilia was working at the fifth district, she also visited a district which Olga and I did not visit) to make observations.

17Building relations of trust with the police

18PIPSS.ORG - Was it obligatory to take part in the research?

19Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: No.

20PIPSS.ORG - Did anyone refuse?

21Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes. Some police officers refused. They could not say it openly, as it was an order of the senior police officers. But their attitude showed us... There was a district that controlled a wholesale market. We wanted to make observations there. But we failed to establish contact with the local police officers. We realised that they would not cooperate with us. We did not want to force them to work with us. We worked only with those who showed interest in cooperating with us, who said: “Yes, you can come and work with us. It is very interesting for us as well”. We understand that because of that our research was limited. But we were working only with those police officers who had an open attitude towards us.

22We could not establish a contact with police officers from the Police Patrol Service. Because first of all, it is a militarized unit. We were not allowed to witness distribution of arms for example. When it started we were asked to leave. Sometimes a supervising police officer would kick us out saying: “You are not allowed to be here, you should not be here”. It was a specific police station with dual subordination both to the town and district authorities.

23The second reason why we could not build a relationship based on trust with the police officers from the Police Patrol Service similar to the one we had with local police officers was that there was no permanent police patrol staff. I would make friends with the police patrol officers and then, they would be replaced by new staff. And you have to start again, trying to establish friendship with new police officers. It was very difficult to do it every time. The senior officer on duty decided for us which patrol service we would follow.

24“You will follow this patrol. You will follow that”. Once when I had an authorisation to observe the work of a patrol, the chief of the Patrol-Service did not allow me to make observations, he said: “Today I do not allow you to observe our work”. He did not let me do it for half a year. During the first month of working in close cooperation with local police officers we could not develop absolute trust. We felt that the police officers were contradicting themselves when talking about their life. They would say something critical and then something positive, it seemed they thought that everything they said would be communicated to their superiors. It took them a month to understand that their superiors did not get any information from us. We did not communicate with the senior officers at all at the time. We did not meet them. They did not show any interest in our work.

25PIPSS.ORG - Did local police officers think that you worked for their superiors?

26Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Of course! They openly talked about it. We introduced ourselves as social scientists and they thought that we were investigators, psychologists but not social scientists, and that we were employed by the administration. During our first meeting some officers refused to cooperate with us saying: “We know everything about you. We know who you are. We do not trust you”. Later they realised that they were wrong, that we did not pass on any critical information to the senior staff. Later they got almost completely involved in the project. Some local police stations provided us with official papers saying that we were voluntary police assistants. It was also good for their internal evaluation.

  • 3 E. Khozhdaeva, Pod nedremliushchim okom. Trudovye migranty i militsiia v Kazani », Neprikosnovennyi (...)

27We took part in some fabricated schemes as attesting witnesses and even put our signatures under other people’s names. The police officers did not conceal minor corrupt deals from us. We could witness that. That was hidden from us while we worked with the Police Patrol Service. Their behaviour was very proper. There were several situations when we suspected bribery, but we did not witness it. We gave them a chance to receive bribes. We could feel when they were about to receive a bribe. “You should not be here”. We left and then something would happen. We observed it from a distance. We were not allowed to enter an interrogation room, so I do not know what happened there. I am only familiar with what goes on at the reception area. We know that bribery took place because some people were allowed to leave without having their details taken. The people who had clearly committed offences, not crimes, but offences were allowed to leave. Based on that we can make a conclusion. It was my first experience. We started writing this book and I published a summary of my article in the Neprikosnovennyi zapas magazine3.

The year 2007: simultaneous liberalised process of registration & ban on getting work permits for foreign citizens

28The research took place in 2007. It did not happen by accident, because at the end of 2006 beginning of 2007 the process of registration was liberalised which coincided with a ban on getting work permits for foreign citizens who wanted to work in the service industry, markets and trade. It was simultaneous restriction and liberalisation. It was interesting because the restriction was planned for the first of April but already in January no foreign citizens were working legally in markets. The following regulations were supposed to liberalise the laws: registration based on permission was to be replaced by notification-based registration when immigrants simply notify the authorities by post. But in practice it did not happen, because we saw immigrants visiting local police officers to get a registration. It was a clear violation of existing laws, but this practice was abolished. It allowed us to show how the Department of Internal Affairs implemented permissive and prohibitive measures. Prohibitive measures are implemented in advance while liberalising measures are postponed. This is also one of the conclusions of our research. I kept thinking about this conclusion when the reform was being implemented. I keep in touch with some of the local police officers I have become friends with. Not only with the local police officers but also with authorised operatives. Many of them resigned, it was becoming increasingly difficult for honest, good people to work in the system. For me it was a topic of great interest, and when Medvedev suggested this reform I started following all public discussions of this reform. I could not let it go. I received a research grant from the Russian Foundation for Humanities. But this research I carried out independently.

29I decided to study this subject for a different project – Professional life of an ordinary police officer. During our fieldwork in 2007 we gathered large amounts of information, which was not included in the book, as the book and the project focused on one subject which did not allow us to publish all of the materials. But this information can be discussed and studied further and etc.

The reception of the study’s results by the MVD

30PIPSS.ORG - Could you tell us how the book was received by the Ministry of Interior or by the head of the police?

31Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: By the time I notified the Ministry of the research, I knew that Lilia Borisovna had already presented this book to the senior staff at the Ministry of Interior. The deputy of our regional minister responsible for public security told me that he had already seen the book. He had it on a shelf at his office but he could not find it. He said that he did not agree with some of the conclusions: “Some conclusions seem right, but I do not agree with all of them”. That was all. […] Here I’d like to mention a specific feature of our research, that can be misunderstood : we consider our book to be neutral, but some people can perceive it as a justification. That is why I start all my recent articles with the following sentence: “Yes, I confess, that it may sound as a justification”. This is a result of an emphatic view of the researcher working within the system. Sometimes we sympathised with people, but we did not feel it towards everyone.

32But we understand that these people are hostages of the police system. Of course it is a problem of research interpretation, as we see it. If we look at that from a positivist point of view then we perceive them as hostages. But if we see them as social actors then they make choices including moral choices throughout their lives. Even if we perceive them as hostages of the system they are still allowed to make choices, but often those choices go against their moral convictions. I have to confess we are also partial. But in this case I consider partiality valuable. No one did it before; no one tried to show the system from a point of view of police officers themselves. The research is usually done from an outside perspective. That is why I have to inform the readers: “This article is based on a limited perspective”.

33PIPSS.ORG - I have a question regarding your initial supposition that the regime in Kazan is more lenient due to the religious and linguistic affiliations…

34Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: When we interview migrants they say that their choice of Kazan has not been influenced by the fact that it is a Muslim region. They have chosen Kazan first of all because it is a region with booming economy and employment opportunities. They do not go to other Muslim regions with difficult economic situation. For them economic conditions is the most important factor. […] They assume that the religious factor exists when they choose Kazan; in general migration is based on a principle of connections. But this factor is not of paramount importance. Our research has demonstrated that this factor plays a very insignificant role. We assumed that migrants had an opportunity to adapt to the local population.

35But our interviews with local police officers and the Police Patrol Service have demonstrated that first of all the police system has to exert control over migrants. The behaviour of the police officers is defined by intradepartmental dynamics. If there is a campaign to tighten control over migrants, then it will happen. But if there are no such rules and the authorities set other targets for local police officers, than the control system will be more relaxed.

36It does not influence day-to-day activities though. Every local police officer and officers from the Police Patrol Service who work directly with the population develop their own subconscious, intuitive techniques of “deciphering” people. It concerns all of the groups under their control, not just migrants. They have told us about that. They can tell by a person’s eye pupils if he is a drug addict, what kind of drugs he uses. It is relevant in case of young people. They know the specifics of different subcultures. It also relates to potentially criminal groups – alcoholics.

37Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: […] There is also racism based on a person’s phenotype. Darker skin, different eye shape. Instrumental racism we write about. They also judge people by what they wear, how they look at them. But even this is not always the case. They have an intuition: for instance they would stop a well-dressed man. We see his face and he does not seem suspicious to us. He is just walking home from work. While talking to us a police officer catches a glimpse of that man and stops him. We find out that he is a Turkish immigrant, a construction worker. […] We were very surprised. We talked to this person for 2 hours without focusing on this subject though. We asked him about his professional experience. He said: “Its difficult to say. I have been living here for 15 years. I know everyone, where they work, what education they have”. His assumptions are based on ready-made stereotypes. It is their tacit knowledge. It is impossible to share this knowledge, it is a result of individual professional socialisation. In general, intuition is of prime importance.

38PIPSS.ORG - But there are nevertheless training sessions ?

39Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Officers in the Police Patrol Service do not have higher education. They have finished school and served in the army. For girls it is only school education. There is a slim chance for them to enter a university. A career based on upward mobility is dubious, especially for guys from small towns with no economic opportunities from Tatarstan and the neighbouring republics of Chuvashia, Mari El etc. They join the police.

40The first step is joining the Police Patrol Service. They are trained there. They take 3-month training sessions where they are taught self-defence techniques and skills in classification of citizens, that you have mentioned. They acquire basic skills, knowledge, they have to read laws, the statute of the Police Patrol Service and etc. Whether they read those documents or not, is a big question. But they have to do it in order to pass exams. Often they already work during this training session, because there is an employee turnover. According to law they are not supposed to work. They undergo training for 3-6 months. I had to spend my first night duty with a guy holding an assault rifle. He was not wearing a police uniform, he was wearing jeans. He was about 28-29 years old. I could not understand why a civilian was allowed to carry an assault rifle. Later I found out that due to staff shortage, an inexperienced intern who had not taken an oath yet, was given a weapon.

41PIPSS.ORG - Did he learn to use a weapon while serving in the army?

42Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: I think he served in the army. He tried to work in civilian jobs, but did not succeed. He told me: “I’ve come here, because i could not find a job”. In 2007 the most junior police officer earned 7 000-8 000 roubles, and he earned 1 200 roubles. It is his internship salary. Can you imagine? Of course the rifle wasn’t loaded. The cartridges were locked in the car. The first thing they do – is locking cartridges in a box, because they will be punished in case if just one is lost. But of course ordinary people do not know if their assault rifles are loaded or not. It is illegal to use firearms. Police firearms is a separate topic. During these trainings they are not taught how to tell who a person is just by looking at him/her. Working at the Patrol Police Patrol Service enables them to get free higher legal education in a police university.

Guys joigning the police to get legal education and girls to get social benefits

43The majority of young people join the police in order to get this legal education thinking it can be used anywhere. Upon joining the police they realise that police education is invalid anywhere else. After taking a few courses girls often move to other departments, guys often do night duties or move to different departments. We have met young police officers who simultaneously work and study by correspondence. Because those studying during the day are not allowed to work. It is a chance of vertical mobility for those who do not have other chances. The second reason for girls to join the police is that maternity leave and child benefits are included. She is considered an obligated reservist, her length of service is uninterrupted. Girls are provided with very good social security benefits there, that is why they go there. Everyone says why they go there: “Police officers will always have work to do. We do not care about who rule the country”. Definitely, these people are conformists. They all belong to a certain type. I am talking about rank-and-file staff.

44PIPSS.ORG - Let’s go back to your personal project…

  • 4 When a serious crime is committed, not an administrative offence, but something serious including t (...)

45Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: My research is based on 50 narrative, biographical interviews with police officers working in the field. I have expanded the range – the Police Patrol Service, Juvenile inspectors (inspektor PDN po delam nesovershennoletnikh), local policemen (uchastkovye), interrogating officers (doznavateli)4.

46PIPSS.ORG - Do they gather testimonies?

47Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes, and they take note of everything. Case officers/investigator (operupolnomochennyi) also interrogate but they collect information.

48After gathering information the case officer sends people to an interrogating officer who must keep all information confidential. Interrogation cannot be conducted in the presence of other people, only in the presence of a lawyer. Of course de facto this rule is broken. […] Usually interrogating officers do not leave borough internal affairs departments.

49And if people do not come to their office, they send them services of summons and then refer the case to a precinct officer. And he has to pay a visit to that person. This subject is interesting for me, because interrogating officers are mainly women. They are often stigmatised and face gender discrimination. I have not met women among detective officers. There are women investigating officers though.

50PIPSS.ORG - We would like to understand why most often, policemen accused of violence are called “operativniki”. What exactly is behind this word?

51Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Officers from the Police Patrol Service and local police officers are accused of violence as well. But case officers have an opportunity to commit acts of violence with impunity, that is why it happens more often. Because they deal with suspects from the outset. Whereas precinct officers and the Police Patrol Service deal with ordinary citizens, they do not exert total control over them. Investigating officers consider everyone they deal with as suspects.

52That is why they are involved in violence more often. It does not mean, that no violations are committed by the Police Patrol Service. A precinct officer told me that he like everyone else started his career working for the Police Patrol Service but he could not stand the atmosphere. He decided to move to the local police officers’ department, though is it very unpopular among police officers. This job involves more responsibility. But the main reason for him was that he could freely demonstrate his kindness there.

53He was a very good and kind young man. He could not even raise his voice. He listened to everyone etc. He was a bit slow. He said: “I was forced to beat people up while working at the Police Patrol Service”. It was a method of professional socialisation. His colleagues forced him to beat people up and it was too much for him. He could not put up with peer pressure. He went to school later on… They set up a police station near a school at the centre of the city. It is often served by private security companies or security police.

54PIPSS.ORG - And the parents pay for it?

55Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes. It is one of the responsibilities of the security police. And then this police officer went to work at a school in Chechnya to make some money. He worked in Gudermes. He made a lot of money there. When he came back his job had been taken by someone else. He needed to find a job and he became a local police officer. He said: “I do not want to work for the department for data collection at the Police Patrol Service”.

56It is important to understand that not only detective officers commit violations. Statistically, they interact more often with groups of citizens involved in crimes, that is the reason for this stereotype.

“Social workers with sticks”

  • 5 Cf. L. Shelley, Policing Soviet Society : The Evolution of State Control, New York, Routledge, 1996 (...)

57PIPSS.ORG - Regarding local police officers would you agree with Louise Shelley who wrote that policemen are social workers with sticks?5

58Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes. Precinct officers deal with social problems. They talk about it and we have observed it. I will give you an example. There was a local police officer with whom I had friendly relationships. I witnessed one of his consultations at the police station. A girl came to thank him. She presented him with a painting saying: “Thank you very much”. He asked her: “Can you please tell us your story. They study how I work”. That girl and her sister had a problem with their mother who had brought her young husband to live with them. The girls and the husband did not get along, as he was aggressive. All family members were registered at the flat and the girls turned to the local police officer for help: “What can we do in order to get rid of him? We want our mother to be happy but it is impossible to live with him.”

59In this case the precinct officer acted as a social worker. He said: “You can file a lawsuit against him to evict him from the flat because he is not registered at the flat. […] But I do not recommend doing that. Suing your own mother is not a good thing to do”. He met their mother separately and told her: “If you do not want anything bad to happen to your daughters, you should rent a flat and move out with your husband. Leave them alone”. He resolved this conflict just by talking to people. Once they had to detain the husband so the mother realised that situation was serious. When this young man was drunk and started brawling, the girls called the precinct officer. He was detained for being drunk. It is an offence not a crime. He was fined and spent the night in prison. Then the mother realised that the situation was serious. It was an administrative offence – “home debauchery”. This forced the mother to move out. It is an example of a precinct officer acting as a social worker. In this case the local police officer was doing social preventive work. There are many similar cases.

60Migrants, bribes & exchange of services

61PIPSS.ORG - They say that local police officers receive money from migrants. It means that they do not have to resort to violence.

62Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: It is not always money, sometimes an exchange of services is involved. For example, a local police officer does not have to control a migrant involved in shoe repairs and who works 200 metres away from the police station. The police officer knows that he would repair his shoes free of charge at any time. Money is not involved in this case. it is not viewed as corruption, extortion or violence. They have a mutual agreement, they co-operate. One of his colleagues (I was a witness) came up to this migrant and extorted a pack of cigarettes. After swearing at this young police officer the senior precinct officer forced him to apologise and gave cigarettes back to the migrant. There is mutual cooperation. We write about that as well, this clientelism occurs on different levels. At the level of personal contacts, middle level – when a local police officer controls migrants.

63Often these local police officers used to be migrants themselves. They are part of the migrant network. It also happens on a macro level – cooperation between communities, in our case between Kazakh and Azerbaijani communities there are agreements, connections on the level of regional officer of internal affairs.

64Olga Maksimova described a situation when migrants who have committed a wrongdoing were absolved thanks to this cooperation. The people who beat up not only ordinary citizens but also some police officers were released. These are very different regimes of individual assistance. It is either non-recurrent or continuous. It can be a large-scale cooperation when everyone knows that there is a certain police officer who helps migrants so they send all migrants to see him: “Go to him, he will explain everything to you”.

65This cooperation is not always based on money, sometimes it involves an exchange of services, products. It should be emphasised that for those migrants who do not have necessary connections this exchange can be very expensive. I talked to the migrants who have to turn to local police officers for help. They say: “We deal with basic problems, when the situation is too difficult we go to see him”. It is quite expensive and risky for them. A precinct officer would always choose professional solidarity over solidarity with the community he controls. That is why their relationship is risky.

New research axes

66PIPSS.ORG - What are your research axes for this project?

67Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: The main aim of the research is find out what happens to professional attitudes during active reforms. To look at how these reforms are implemented. This is my main objective. The second objective is to understand how these reforms are perceived. What is the attitude towards them, whether they change their mentality or they are perceived as orders from above. The third objective is to introduce a new element into my research. It is a female police identity – strategies of representation, stigmatization of the outside male factor. The research will look at the gender aspect, a topic that has not been researched before. The fourth objective – the image of the police officer which is communicated through departmental newspapers and magazines. I read newspapers “The Shield and Sword” (Shchit i mech6) and “The Basic mentality” (Osobyi mentalitet7). The departmental newspapers and magazines cover two points of view – official point of view based on interviews with the official representatives of the department and point of view of rank-and-file staff.

68“The Basic Mentality” includes observations and articles about the veterans written by the veterans themselves. They transmit the image which is reproduced in the professional day-to-day discourse. The newspaper is simultaneously given a directive on what to write and media space is created to express oneself. I wanted to compare these two points of view with what people say in interviews, how they see themselves with what they write in professional forums etc., which are also edited but not all of them. I think that the police forums, like, is a unique and extremely interesting source of information.

69They contain a lot of useful informations, people from different regions participate in them. It would allow for my research to be included into the general discourse about the police in Russia. They say: “In our region the situation is different. Listen, guys, there has been a new regulation, how do you implement it?” It demonstrates that one legal norm is perceived and implemented differently in various regions. This is a very interesting source of information. My research draws on it a lot.

70[…] My research has been approved. To conduct interviews was not my only task. My task was to set up a base for making observations, which is more difficult. I have managed to persuade the republican administration to authorise me to make observations at some local police stations. But i have chosen different ones, but they do not support me in this. We have not come to an agreement just yet.

The March 2012 Kazan events

  • 8 On 10 March 2012, Sergei Nazarov, 52, died in Kazan City Hospital n° 18, after having been beaten a (...)

71PIPSS.ORG - About the recent events in Kazan8, what comments can you make?

72Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: It happens not only in Kazan but in Russia in general. It is not an isolated case – worse incidents happen. I think in Perm they killed a witness and dumped his body in the forest. Generally speaking, violence is very widespread in Russia.

73In Kazan there are lawsuits that lag behind. Some lawsuits have been resolved. One was in Iudino, and one in the Sovetsky district of Kazan in 2007, when local police officers committed a contract killing. There is information about that. The police regime in Tatarstan has been criticised for a very long time. I do not think that this is an isolated case. This is a tragic but typical case. The way police brutality has now become a motto in Kazan is a result of the political context at the time this case happened: it happened on the 9th of March. The death was registered on the 11th, the arrest happened on the 9th. Why on Friday? Because you can detain a person for the weekend. Elections were held on the 4th, the protest mood attracted attention. The person died on the 11th. And on the 12th Navalny writes about this case in his blog, which is one of the most popular blogs in Russia: “Look at what happens in Kazan”.

74It is important to understand why this incident in Dalny police station has drawn such an overwhelming public response. Because killings happened before in Dalny and in the neighbouring Azino. We knew about them. We also knew that the Tatarstan police treated detained protesters with brutality. They write about that in newspapers and magazines. It is very important to look at the composition of the protest movement against police brutality in Kazan. It consists of the same people who protested against the election results. These people protest against any government actions. In Kazan the protest movement was very strong in 2010-2011. These people are dissatisfied with the regime including the police, because it affects them personally. They have all been detained at some point. Almost all representatives of opposition parties in Kazan, including Yabloko, KPRF etc., are officially considered extremists. They told me: “We are extremists”.

75PIPSS.ORG - In addition, there are also small-scale entrepreneurs.

76Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes. A part of the opposition consists of entrepreneurs. There are human rights activists and entrepreneurs. There are many complaints about the Ministry of the Interior, especially in Tatarstan. The Muslims complain about how the authorities treat them. Russian nationalists in Tatarstan also suffer from abuses. I personally know a young boy who is an ultra-nationalist. His mother often gives speeches during meetings claiming that her 19-year old son is presently held at the pre-trial detention centre where he is tortured into confessing to crimes he has not committed. This strategy of forcing citizens to confess to crimes they have not committed is applied to all categories of the population. Nazarov, the man who was murdered, had been convicted before. They can use him now.

77PIPSS.ORG - He is an ideal target?

78Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: Yes he is. Names of the people who have previous convictions are kept on the database. Everyone knows everything about them. There is information on their age, the dates of conviction and release. Local police officers keep track of this. It is very easy to find people on whom they can slap charges. Artur Kepadulin was under arrest during the elections. He was detained for 10 days on Friday and later on he went on hunger strike. He was detained because a police officer claimed that he had disturbed public order. […]The judiciary is also involved in this as the court refuses to accept as material evidence his audio recording. Artur always carries a voice recorder as he knows that his name is on the police register. The recording demonstrates that he did not insult anyone. People come to the protests which they did not organise. They know that they can express their grievances during protests. The protesters know about that so they decided to cover this subject as well. The district we observed is relatively trouble-free in this respect. All my informants told me: “Just do not go to Dalnii, Azino and Iudino”.

79PIPSS.ORG - They know.

80Ekaterina Khozhdaeva: In the professional community there is a clear categorisation based on cruelty and the regime that the local departments’ authorities establish. Professionals, good people can work there but not everyone can tolerate the atmosphere. That is why they move to other departments. There is a selection process involved. Policemen prone to violence go to certain departments where such behaviour is promoted. And police officers who want to maintain normal relationships with citizens are concentrated in other departments.

81I know many police officers who worked in the district I observed, and they were from residential districts where violence occurred. It is quite evident, why they do not want to work there. They have to waste their time commuting because they are not able to tolerate the atmosphere of violence. Even in stable and quiet units they have to employ two people capable of violent behaviour in case they need someone to force confessions. This is an operational use of violent behaviour. During selection personnel department and psychological department do not prevent this.

82This selection filter is only a formality. Our informants say that psychological testing consists of a giant 100 pages questionnaire. In order to fill it in properly you will need at least 2 hours. That is why young men who would like to join the police say: “I just randomly ticked the test answers. The first time I was not selected. The second time I read some of the questions”.

83The fact that they do not even read questions means that the selection process is just a mere formality. The selection process is based on 4 levels of psychological disposition: normal, calm, stable and aggressive. They employ people from all of these 4 groups, because there is a shortage of staff. The deputy minister told me that the republic is short of 144 local police officers.

84Even in the district we observed in 2007 where the situation is relatively stable, there were 140 filled positions and 4 or 5 vacant positions. Only 70 officers actually perform police duties, as the rest of them are athletes representing the Ministry of the Interior and an orchestra of wind instruments which musicians are registered in various regions. The salaries are credited to their bank accounts though they have never been to this city. It needs to be emphasised that staff shortage is the main reason why they have to employ and tolerate people who behave unprofessionally. This strategy is effective in the short-term. These people are instrumental in forcing confessions. Our police are not public-friendly. Louise Shelley writes: “In the Soviet Union the police are focused on defending the regime and self-reproduction”. And for successful self-reproduction every year they need to produce reports demonstrating their efficiency. Ministers on regional, republican and federal levels draft and publish reports demonstrating how efficient their departments are in fighting crime. They need to achieve the targets set by the government in order to prove their efficiency.

85This whole penitentiary system does not see itself as serving the civil society. It views itself as part of the state. It is also concerned about its own interests. I would not agree that there is an atmosphere of total impunity. It is a myth that police officers enjoy impunity. Yes, they feel it when dealing with the public, but not within their department.

The system of glasses (stakany)

86[…] They just need to report how many unprofessional officers have been fired. There is no total impunity. Every officer has useful contacts of people who help him to cover up his illegal activities. But if these connections are weakened or cut off, an officer feels vulnerable thus he acts either more in accordance with the laws or riskier. Just to prove oneself. In their slang they call it a system of “glasses” which means they receive “a service incompetence note”. After this they get fired with a “white ticket” – meaning that they will never be able to get a job in the system. […] The system of “glasses” means that for half a year (half a year – 1 year, the duration is set up by the administration) an officer will receive a minimum salary without any bonuses. And bonuses are the largest part of the salary. It means that you will not be able to provide for your family. In addition your capacity to receive bribes is limited as you are being closely watched. […] This is a very important factor. Every officer is scared of the “glasses” system. Your status depends on the relationship between the senior staff and those they control, rank-and-file officers. If they work in an environment conducive to violence this fear is absent. The situation will be different if the supervisory regime is more strict, or there are two contending groups who may use human rights violations in their rivalry.

Top of page


1 V. Voronkov, B. Gladarev, L. Sagitova, Militsiia i etnicheskie migranty :praktiki vzaimodeistviia, St-Petersburg, Alateia, 2011, 640 pages. See a review of the book in this issue by Amandine Regamey at [Editor’s note].

2 E. Khozhdaeva, « « Chastnoe » i « Publichnoie » v prostranstvennoi organizatsii povsednevnykh praktik uchastkovogo (opyt etnograficheskogo opisaniia) », Laboratorium, #3, 2011, pp. 19-52 [Editor’s note].

3 E. Khozhdaeva, Pod nedremliushchim okom. Trudovye migranty i militsiia v Kazani », Neprikosnovennyi zapas, #3, 2010 [Editor’s note].

4 When a serious crime is committed, not an administrative offence, but something serious including theft or violence interrogating officers work with witnesses or victims. They are part of the Public security police (MOB) – whereas sledovateli (investigators) are part of the Criminal Police (Kriminal’naia Politsiia / Ugolovnyi Rosysk). The majority of interrogating officers are women. I did not meet any men there. They mainly do paperwork. [Interviewee’s note]

5 Cf. L. Shelley, Policing Soviet Society : The Evolution of State Control, New York, Routledge, 1996, chapter 8 « Policing the deviant : social workers with sticks » [Editor’s note].

6 See the table of contents of the newspaper at [Editor’s note].

7 Journal of the MVD of the Tatarstan Republic [Editor’s note].

8 On 10 March 2012, Sergei Nazarov, 52, died in Kazan City Hospital n° 18, after having been beaten and sodomized with a champagne bottle by police officers of Kazan’s Dalny police station [Editor’s note].

Top of page


Electronic reference

Anne Le Huérou and Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, « […] Local police officers are accused of violence […] but case officers have an opportunity to commit acts of violence with impunity » - Interview with Ekaterina Khozhdaeva, Associate Professor in Sociology, Kazan State Technical University, conducted in Paris, 3 April 2012The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 13 | 2012, Online since 23 November 2012, connection on 03 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the authors

Anne Le Huérou

University of Nanterre-Paris X / CERCEC

By this author

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski / CERCEC

By this author

Top of page



The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search