Sunday, June 20, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Military’s Effort to Shift Blame to Russian Society for ‘Dedovshchina’ Unjustified, Activists Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 20 – Russia’s chief military prosecutor said that crimes in the military had declined but that “dedovshchina,” the often brutal hazing of junior soldiers by more senior ones and their officers, had increased, the result, he said, not of military organization but of “the illness of society.”
Consequently, Sergey Fridinsky said on Friday, for “dedovshchina” to decline, the problems of Russian society must be solved “before [draftees] are called up.” But rights activists who focus on the military say that Fridinsky’s attempt to shift the blame for the rise in “dedovshchina” is unjustified ( ).
Fridinsky proudly announced that during the first five months of 2010, “the number of crimes in all military formations had fallen 12 to 14 percent” compared to a year earlier, and the number of the most serious crimes had declined “almost 50 percent.” But the situation with regard to “dedovshchina,” he acknowledged, was deteriorating.
In 2009, the prosecutor said, his staff investigated “approximately 1,000 criminal cases connected with ‘dedovshchina.’” In 80 percent of those cases, he continued, commanders had been subject to “disciplinary responsibility.” As far as 2010 is concerned, Fridinsky did not give any figures, but “expressed concern about the growth” of such hazing.
Unlike many parents and rights activists who see this phenomenon as a specific characteristic of Russian military life, Fridinsky suggested that the causes for the increase must be found elsewhere, both in the increase in the number of draftees over the last two years – “that could not fail to affect the statistics,” he said -- and in the problems of Russian society.
According to Fridinsky, “’dedovshchina’ is not a product of the armed forces,” “Kommersant” reported. “Do we not have such relations on the streets?” Fridinsky asked rhetorically. “Do we not have such relations in the schools? This is part of the illness of youth and of society.”
According to the military prosecutor, therefore, “one must not struggle with ‘dedovshchina’ only in the army.” The “cure” must begin much earlier. “About 170-180,000 youths are in socially dangerous situations where there is force. And 80 percent of these people go to serve in the army with their own already formed way of life.”
Fridinsky’s comments came only two days after Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov blamed “extremist” youth groups for “dedovshchina,” a charge that rights activists suggested was absurd on its face given that Moscow suggests there are far fewer such groups than there are cases of “dedovshchina.”
Such activists have now savaged Fridinsky’s comments. Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, said Fridinsky was correct that “dedovshchina” had increased but he was significantly understating the numbers and wrong in thinking the military itself did not bear primary responsibility.
And Sergey Krivenko, the director of the Expert Center Citizen-Army-Law and a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, said that Fridinsky’s comments notwithstanding, this form of abuse “to a great extent all the same is a product of the army,” although he acknowledged that it exists elsewhere in Russian life.
It “really exists both in schools and in the workplace,” Krivenko continued. “But it takes terrible forms precisely in the army and in jail where the members of the community have no chance to defend their rights.” Ignoring that reality is a mistake and will prevent the military from addressing this problem.
In Krivenko’s opinion, part of the reason for the rise in “dedovshchina” lies in the ongoing reform of the armed services. The number of officers has been cut and those who are left often can’t “create normal life conditions.” Moreover, “the institution of sergeants on which were placed hope, has still not taken shape.”
The rights activist concluded that the military will get nowhere by shifting responsibility to others. If the army were properly organized and led, he suggested, even young people with troubled pasts would not be likely to engage in “dedovshchina” – and consequently, the increase in this bane is evidence that Russia lacks that kind of military.

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