The Russian government is planning to allow pro-Kremlin volunteers to set up a nationwide youth militia by recruiting 100,000 destitute 17- to 25-year-olds to patrol the streets in return for food and shelter.
The news comes just months after a similar initiative was set up in Italy. Is Europe seeing a return to citizen policing?
If approved by the government, the plans would see the Dobrovolnye Molodezhnye Druzhiny (DMD), or All-Russian Association of Voluntary, in action across the country by December this year.
Set up in 2005, the movement is considered an initiative by President Vladimir Putin and it remains faithful to the current prime minister. On 3 August, they announced their proposal to the government to nationalise youth patrols.
The group already supervises some youth patrols in the country, but the movement is not widespread. Branches are largely disorganized, funded by churches or local businesses and without any authority. Unarmed, they are unable to arrest people.
The law proposed by the Nashi would allow volunteers to carry Tasers and give them the power to stop and search people. The groups would be directly funded by the government and work in collaboration with the regional police. The State Duma, the lower house of parliament, will vote on the law in October.
Inspired by the Iranian Basij?
Various Russian Web users have compared the initiative to Iran's violent Basij militia. Here are a few examples:
"In times of deepening economic and potential political crises, when protests such as in Pikalevo and Vladivostok could become an everyday reality, structures such as the Iranian Basij could be very useful for the authorities." — Posted on Livejournal by blogger SergE.
"Due to its success in Iran, Russia will create its own Basij groups from young criminals." — Posted by Egil Belshevic.
"One hundred thousand hooligans in the streets of Russian towns by 2012?! I'd like to believe it's a joke. Otherwise, we'll have something like the Hitler Youth or the Iranian Basij." — Posted by Arkashamos.
"We are Russian. This is happiness"
Volunteers from the People's Volunteer Forces of Pushkin, one of many local groups that would be run by the Nashi. The caption reads: "We are Russian. This is happiness." The image is posted on the group's website along with a comment that insists the group does not represent a return to Soviet brigades.
"Young? Active? Troubled? We're waiting for you in the Volunteer Militia"
“Recruiting young thugs with a criminal past and then arming them with stun guns”
Evgeniy Ikhov is a member of the Russian movement "For Human Rights".
Nothing good can come from combining the Nazi Brown Shirts with the Chinese Red Guards. Recruiting young thugs with a criminal past and then arming them with stun guns has nothing to do with fighting crime. These squads would be used only against the opposition and immigrants, and those people are already under attack.
Similar organizations like these already existed in the Soviet Union 50 years ago. They were called Young Friends of the Police. These squads were famous for their cruelty. They beat youngsters who didn't look "Soviet" enough, tore their Western-style clothes and cut their long hair.
I wouldn't expect anything as dangerous this time round, however. In modern Russia, many organizations like these are too busy with embezzlement to properly fulfill their primary mission.
Nashi in action