Over the last fifteen years several enduring myths about the Ministry of Internal Affairs formed.
The first one relates to the Interior Ministry troops. Among the pro-democratic community of Belarus (but not exclusively) the opinion that only dictatorial regimes need the agencies like Interior Ministry troops.
But it is not true. Of course, not all countries have a paramilitary organization with the title “The Interior Ministry troops”, but in many countries there are structures that are generally designed to perform tasks that are similar to the tasks of our Interior Ministry troops. For example, in Italy, has three such agencies: carabinieri, financial Guard and public safety Guard.
In peacetime, they have a double subordination: in terms of law enforcement, they are subject to the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Finance (for financial Guard), in terms of weapons, manning and training — to the Ministry of Defence. In wartime, all these agencies are automatically transferred to the subordination of the military department. Italy is just one example. Here is an arbitrarily drawn up list of countries with the paramilitary police, having functions similar to the functions of the Belarusian Interior Ministry troops: Portugal, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Romania, Moldova, Cyprus, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mongolia, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay , Poland, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, the United States, Turkey, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Zambia, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Chile, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Yemen, Nepal, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia and many other. Political regimes in these countries are completely different. The form of government, territorial, economic development and other characteristics are various as well.
By the way, in those countries, where there is no specialized paramilitary organization for the maintenance of law and order, there is a possibility of bringing army units to suppressing internal unrest.
In many countries where there is no analogue of our Interior Ministry troops, some of their functions are assigned to the paramilitary organizations (Zemesardze in Latvia, the Defence League in Estonia, Hemvern in Scandinavian countries).
The second one is related to the number of MIA. In the 90 years the number of Interior Ministry troops was informally stated to be about 50-80 thousand people, now open source can claim their numbers to be around 11-13 thousand. Is this too much or too little?
If you examine the number of units, similar to our Interior Ministry troops and their share in the population, it turns out that our “militarization” of MIA is just a myth. Belarus, even in comparison with the EU, has average number of paramilitary law enforcement officers per capita (1.16-1.37 per 1,000 population). The leader here is Italy (4.08 per 1,000 population). In general, it is necessary to note the following thing: Europe’s most high number of paramilitary organizations can be found in the Latin countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Romania).
It is interesting to note that in the USA, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Chile, Saudi Arabia’s internal security forces in numbers are comparable to or even exceed the size of the Army, subordinate to local Defence Ministries. And unlike the Belarusian Interior Ministry troops, in most cases they have their own aircraft and heavy weapons.
But, in fact, the ratio to the population is, in general, only the most visible and not the most important indicator. The main thing is the set of functions assigned to them. In addition to the protection of important objects / goods and the suppression of internal unrest Belarusian Interior Ministry troops have to maintain security prisons and colonies, as well as escort prisoners and detainees. Only those tasks employ at least 2,000 military personnel. Each year, Interior Ministry troops escort more than 230,000 thousand prisoners and detained persons. About 35 thousand prisoners are under guard in prisons.
In addition, clearance work units are a part of Belarusian Interior Ministry troops, which, in connection with the history of our country are working hard: average annual number of visits is around 4000.
Every day more than 1,000 of Interior Ministry troops officers are patrolling the streets of all the seven major regional and district centers.
In addition, units of Interior Ministry troops are periodically involved in the protection of the state border with the border guards.
Interior Ministry troops dog experts are involved in the fight against drug trafficking and human trafficking.
Interior Ministry troops are tasked with help in the recovery after natural and man-made disasters, demercurization of mercury.
In addition, the Belarusian Interior Ministry troops have two functions, that they, thank God, have no need to perform now:
— the bearing of regime-commandant’s service to ensure a state of emergency and martial law in areas where such regimes are introduced;
— the bearing of regime-quarantine service to ensure the isolation-restrictive measures, protection of public order and public safety in the emergency area in the aftermath of accidents, fires, natural disasters and epidemics.
It would seem that the circle of reference of Belarusian MIA is wide. But an ordinary man in the street does not know about that. For the vast majority of Belarusians Interior Ministry troopsare associated exclusively with prisons and beating protesters in the streets.
In general, a similar situation can be observed, while considering the number of MIA. By the way, the speculation about the number of Belarusian law enforcement agencies appeared largely thanks to the very agency: for no apparent reason, the Ministry keeps a terrible secret about the number of their employees. It is unclear, however, why this is done. There are different variants, stated in the society: from a simple “more than 100 thousand employees” to concrete 125, 140 or even 150 thousand. However, none of these numbers has relation to reality.
Not having direct and official data, we can, however, fairly easy determine the approximate number of Belarusian law enforcers. And the paper “On Guard” will help us in this. First of all – the run of the newspaper. According to departmental “tradition”, the subscription to this paper is required for all officers and employees of the MIA, with the exception of the Police Academy cadets, Mogilev College and the Faculty of Internal Troops of the Military Academy, as well as conscripts. For the first quarter of this year, the newspaper’s run was about 44 thousand copies. The number of students of educational institutions (of the MIA), according to the public information on the issue in 2012, and based on the 5-year study period, is about 3 thousand, thye number of conscripts is about 6-7 thousand. There are about 12 thousand civil servants in MIA. Taking into account the staff shortage and the “dissident” employees who refuse to subscribe to the departmental newspaper, the overall state of Ministry of Internal Affairs can be determined to be within 79-82 thousand. Thus, the “density” of the Belarusian MIA employees per capita is roughly equal to the Russian one and is lower than the Ukrainian one.
But the MIA is not just people in police or military uniforms. Not everyone who wears the uniform is directly engaged in law enforcement activities. Since the days of the Soviet Union it is a tradition that the Interior Ministry is highly militarized agency. As a result, we have a situation when even in the best situation only half of the agency officers is directly engaged in law enforcement. On the other hand, there are thousands of clerks, the “Titans paper and printer” that have nothing to guard, but are working just to get soft loans for housing and early retirement at 45. This situation devalues the very status of a police officer. As the result it seems that there are many officers, but too little order in the country. Ordinary people are unaware that you can sit in the office for 25-30 years with a “busy” work schedule from 9 to 18 hours, retire major/ lieutenant / colonel and see the criminals only on TV.
If you analyze the open data on of MIA, which periodically appear for different kinds of commemorative dates, it turns out that 35-40 thousand police officers deal with the direct protection of the rule of law. Such number of police is the average European ratio per capita. In reality, this number is less for 15-20% due to staff shortage.
Concluding the conversation about the Belarusian Interior Ministry, it must be admitted that the agency needs to be reformed. While the current system handles its job. However, every year this is getting more and more difficult. The reforms of MIA are necessary. And they must be accompanied by a broad public debate on possible ways of change. But any discussion must be based on facts but not fiction of legend. Otherwise, false initial data will lead to disastrous outcome.