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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Busybodies To Save City From Terror




I went all through the Great Patriotic War [World War II]. I'm not afraid of anybody, least of all a few terrorists."


Zoya Baruzdova, a feisty pensioner, is the "senior resident" of the fourteen-story block of flats at 3 Nikonovksy Pereulok in Moscow. "I know everyone here," she said. "If any suspicious stranger appears, you can be sure I shall be on him."


In the wake of the deadly apartment house bombings, the authorities are studying the sophisticated anti-terrorist techniques used in Britain, France and Israel. But they are also falling back on Soviet-era methods of public surveillance involving networks of "alert citizens" - or, to put it another way, busybodies who inform on others.


Zoya was the obvious person to take responsibility for security at her building as she has been guarding the block anyway since 1996, when somebody stole stocks of sugar and cooking oil from her apartment.She sits on the ground floor in a little booth, equipped with a closed-circuit television paid for by the residents.


The use of seniors to watch and act as liaisons with police means that there is house to house cover in these tense times. But the system is open to abuse by people wanting to settle personal scores or with racist attitudes .


"There is a foreigner living in there," I heard a man's voice say in the corridor outside my apartment. A minute later, I opened the door to my local beat patrolman, Sergei Bocharev. He asked to see a copy of my passport and my lease. Satisfied that the documents were in order, he saluted and left. The visit may not have passed so smoothly had I been a Caucasian.


"I used to be a Soviet man. I went to college in Leningrad. Now I am an alien," said Ruslan, one of the thousands of Azeris who sell fruit on the streets. "The Russians say "mafia, mafia," but we are traders."


Now, following Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's order that "guests" from CIS states must re-register, Ruslan is worried. He showed me his temporary living permit, a flimsy piece of paper. "It is still valid, but I have to go to the police station and see if I can renew it. The police are always taking bribes. This time I am afraid I will have to offer a big one."


Apart from the pensioners, beat patrolmen and army conscripts, workers in municipal housing maintenance offices are bearing part of the brunt of the security operation. In my local maintenance office, four women, all called Tatyana, were drinking tea. Normally they fix clogged toilets and broken light bulbs, or, in winter, knock dangerously dangling icicles from roofs.


"We were out all night with the police, checking basements and attics," said Tatyana Lizhova. "After the bomb on Kashirskoye Shosse, [President Boris] Yeltsin gave Luzhkov 24 hours to check all Moscow buildings. Luzhkov issued his order, and in the hierarchy, all the bosses kicked down until the people at the bottom did all the dirty work."


Lizhova was highly critical of the operation and especially of the plans to use seniors citizens for further surveillance. "It's illiterate and unprofessional," she said. "The majority of the volunteers are elderly women. It's unlikely they can do anything against terrorists. Yet out watching tonight they will be vulnerable to all sorts of other dangers. I am surprised their husbands let them do it. Frankly, I am worried about the poor old souls."