The "People's Patrols" proposal is part of a package of other Soviet-style regulations tightening rules requiring police registration at certain addresses and an anti-gay propaganda law. "This is not the revival of patriotism, but a revival of nationalism, as clearly patrols will target a concrete enemy: particular ethnic groups," said Alexander Verkhovsky, the director of the Sova Center, a group that monitors xenophobia and ethnic violence. The latest Sova survey describes almost 200 cases of attacks apparently motivated by xenophobia. The group's experts say that there is clear evidence of a trend for the worse.
Many Russians still remember the Soviet-era street patrols, the druzhinniki or people's militia, who usually consisted of high school or university students. They wore red armbands and walked the streets to keep order on May Day and other public holidays. Not everyone is excited by the revival of volunteer patrols, whether Cossack or Soviet. Only three percent of the mostly liberal listeners of the radio station Echo of Moscow approved of the notion of the new street patrols. Listeners expressed concern that the volunteer inspectors might seize the chance to crack down on anyone they choose, including gay couples or various social nonconformists.
But Russians in the southern regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol are welcoming the idea of nationalists guarding their streets. 300 well-trained Cossacks in traditional red and black uniforms already march along Krasnodar streets; Cossacks on horses guard the central park and the main church in Stavropol, and recently the governor there ordered the creation of a new professional Cossack police unit of 150 men armed with traditional knives, whips, and stun guns. It was unclear whether they would be authorized to use the whips on citizens. "Finally, Cossacks will be in charge," said Vladimir Nesterov, the head of the Union of Slav Organizations. "Our goal is to make the foreign national[s] understand that it is time to retreat from traditional Russian cities."