Teenage criminal prisoners in Russia (Image: bazaistoria.ru)
Despite the Putin regime’s massive police presence – Russia now has more police per capita than any other country in the world – youth gangs are killing, raping and attacking representatives of the authorities across the country, unfazed by any threat of arrest or imprisonment.
Many of those involved identify themselves or are identified in the media as “AUE,” an abbreviation for the Russian expression, “the arrested way of life is united” or simply “jailbirds.” They appeared first in orphanages and then in children’s prisons but are spreading to the streets.
These groups, observers say, are formed by young criminals who are attracted by their romantic view of crime and who see themselves as musketeers or Robin Hoods who are standing up to the authorities in the name of group solidarity. In the past, Russian young people were interested in goths and emos; now, one commentator says, “their idols have become prison personalities.”
The term AUE arose seven years ago and has been found in at least 18 regions of the Russian Federation, most far from Moscow, according to an investigation conducted by Novaya gazeta. In many cases, the authorities seem powerless against groups totally unafraid of arrest or fighting with the police.
Both ordinary Russians in these regions and some human rights activists and politicians are horrified by the failure of the authorities to take action. They are calling for the suppression of Internet videos that the groups use to promote themselves and recruit new members and also for tough actions against these gangs.
In June, a Duma committee held a hearing about AUE. Interior ministry (MVD) officials sought to minimize the problem, but representatives of the magistracy argued that the MVD doesn’t appear to understand what is going on.
Igor Kommissarov, the vice president of the Russian magistracy, suggested that the interior ministry people were living in “a parallel world,” one that doesn’t reflect realities on the ground. “I don’t know where you work, but you absolutely can’t imagine the situation which is developing” in this regard.
Russian criminologists are divided as to why the AUE groups have emerged. Some see them as a continuation of the criminal subculture of the 1950s and 1960s, while others suggest there is “a 20-year cycle” of criminal activity, and Russia is simply living through a high point of that curve just now.
But increasingly, Russian officials are falling back on their usual argument to explain negative developments in their country. They point out that “youth crime is widespread in many countries” and that “analogues to AUE now exist in Latin America and the US,” as well as in EU member states.
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