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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crime, No Punishment

Editor's note: The writer of this comment is a guide with Heritage Tours of Hellerup, Denmark, who has brought 16 groups of tourists to Russia and other former Soviet republics since 1983. In a letter accompanying her account, she says, "You can tell from my story that I question whether I can accept the responsibility for leading visitors to Russia now. What can be done? "

At about noon on Tuesday, Nov. 10, I stepped out of the Smolenskaya Metro station to walk to the Hotel Belgrade. Since I was alone, I was careful to be observant of the dozen or so people sharing the sidewalk. What I failed to notice was the small child scanning the street from behind the low railing at the entrance of the underpass below the Garden Ring.

Suddenly I was surrounded by 15 or more children. I had not seen or heard them come, but instantly they were clawing at me. I yelled "Stop! " and pushed them away as strongly as I could. I saw that my purse had been unzipped, and my billfold was missing.

I screamed "Police, militsia", appealing to the people walking nearby. But by this time the children had scattered, running into the stream of heavy traffic in the direction of the Hotel Belgrade.

I remembered that there were four uniformed guards at the entrance to the hotel, so I went immediately to enlist their aid. My elementary command of Russian was adequate to tell them my story, but there was no movement from them. Finally a guard handed me a slip of paper with the address of Militsia No. 5 at 31 Arbat Street. "A five-minute walk away", he said.

The Arbat address seemed more than five minutes away. The station was located in an alley. A dingy door with no identification seemed to be the entrance.

In room No. 24 on the third floor the apparent head of the station was sitting at his desk watching television. The appearance of Anatoly Ivanovich Blokhin was that of the stereotypical party bureaucrat: thick build, grey suit, grey hair. As he listened to my story he seemed tired and bored. He directed me into the hall and said, "Wait".

For a while I watched a few people going in and out of doors. I knocked to ask how much longer I had to wait. It was locked and Blokhin had slipped out. I checked in room No. 23 and learned that the man in room No. 22 who would write my report was at lunch and would return in an hour. By this time I already was aware that no one intended to be of any service whatsoever.

How could it be that the police had become totally helpless? At the time of my earliest visits to this country people were regularly imprisoned for writing poetry or speaking to foreigners. In those days the innocent feared everything. Now the guilty fear nothing!

It was after 2: 00 P. M. when I was able to begin the work of writing the report, negotiating every sentence to make sure the policeman understood my exact meaning.

An hour later I stepped back onto the Arbat, light-headed from not eating or drinking anything. My feet were wet and cold, so I decided to return to the hotel. I was weary and disillusioned.

As I began to step down into the underpass, I saw the very same children lolling on the stairway. Backing up so they would not notice me, I tried to find the quickest way to reach the hotel guards, but at this time of day the Garden Ring is uncrossable.

In front of the Foreign Ministry building I saw a policeman. I told him my story. He said, "Wait one minute", and disappeared. When the policeman returned ten minutes later he handed me a scrap of paper with the address of Militsia # 5. I said I had just come from there. Another wait. This time he gave me a scrap of paper with the Militsia phone number on it, and told me to go into the Foreign Ministry building to call.

The two guards did not want to allow me to use the phone. When I told them I was reporting a crime and that the children were still there they asked me if they were the dark ones under the street. They knew all about them! One of them directed me to the pay phones in the outer lobby. When I reminded him that all my money had been stolen, he handed me two kopeks for the phone. I reached the station, but the person on duty hung up on me.

I decided to go back to the hotel, just a few steps away, but on the other side of the street. I asked the policeman to escort me through the underpass, but he shook his head.

Gingerly I descended into the underpass. The children had gone. When I got back to the hotel, unsuccessful and angry, it was more than four hours after the incident.

I am haunted by thoughts of these children growing up as terrorists, with no societal effort to bring them into the mainstream. When I asked Muscovite friends why the police were not helpful in any way, they all said they were sure that the gypsies were paying them off with big money. It certainly seemed to me as if they had no idea what was expected or required of them. They were eerily passive.

As Russian society heads dangerously out of control, steps must be taken to develop a system of law for the protection of innocent persons. Somehow the larger goals of society must be restored to consciousness within the context of the new possibilities for human rights. Waiting for someone to deliver ideal conditions will continue to bring disillusionment. Each individual must begin now to take personal initiative for the basic and critical aspects of his life. Russia has exhibited heroic reserves of strength and perseverance in overcoming external obstacles and conditions. The challenge facing the people now is greater by far: internally elevating a mentality that can restore honor, integrity, and pride.