Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Army’s Latest Problem – ‘Dedovshchina’ without ‘Dedy’

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 14 – The reduction of the length of service for draftees was supposed to eliminate in the Russian military the phenomenon of “dedovshchina,” the mistreatment, often brutal, of more recently drafted soldiers by those, the “dedy” or “grandfathers,” who had been in service longer. But despite those hopes, “dedovshchina” has continued, albeit under new names.
In an article posted on today, Viktor Sokirko says that in fact, violence by one group of soldiers toward another remains a serious problem in barracks around the Russian Federation, although the slang terms for those engaging in “dedovshchina”-type actions have changed (
In the past, when there was a two-year draft cycle, those who had served the longest frequently mistreated those who had just entered service, all the more so because the Russian military has not been able to develop the non-commissioned officer corps of sergeants that generally prevents this from happening in the armies of other countries.
But now with a one-year draft cycle -- something some commentators now say may be increased to two years in 2012 -- the differences between the most senior draftees and the most junior are a matter of months at most. Nonetheless, those who have been in longer tend to occupy positions in which they can oppress the more junior.
Some of those nearing the end of their service now are more often called “elephants” [‘slony’ in Russian] while most of those who are more junior and thus often treated brutally by the elephants are called “the sweepers” [‘cherpaki’], a reference to their “duty” to clean up what the more senior soldiers leave behind.
Sokirko notes that during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, there was almost no “dedovshchina.” There was more unit cohesion, there were real threats and fewer occasions for senior soldiers to brutalize more junior ones, and any senior soldier who engaged in it could find himself with “a bullet in his back.”
But after the Soviet withdrawal, the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” writer continues, the situation in the peacetime Soviet and then Russian army seriously deteriorated in this regard in some respects because both officers and draftees benefited from “dedovshchina” as it then existed.
On the one hand, officers could count on more senior soldiers to keep order in the ranks. And on the other, junior soldiers could reasonably expect that after some months of being mistreated by their elders, they would rise to that status and be in a position to do the same to newer soldiers.
The shortening of the length of service for draftees and plans to create a cadre of professional sergeants were supposed to end this plague, Sokirko continues. But in fact, according to Russian military prosecutors, “dedovshchina”-type crimes have in fact risen over the last year.
The explanation, the journalist suggests, is that the old hierarchal system based on length of service has broken down but not the habit of some more senior soldiers mistreating their juniors and some officers relying on that to keep their units in line. But there is one big difference: now, not all soldiers can count on rising to the status of “dedy.”
Instead, Sokirko suggests, some soldiers as a result of cleverness get to become “elephants” while others, presumably less clever or less fortunate, do not, and that new pattern makes the struggle for gaining such a status more intense and the likelihood that the elephants who win out will treat their juniors even worse.
Sokirko interviewed two officers about this situation. Vladimir Popov, a retired colonel of the General Staff, said it was “unrealistic” to eliminate “dedovshchina” because officers have an interest in continuing it. What is necessary, he suggested, is to eliminate excesses through better training and enforcement.
But Anatoly Prokopyev, a retired border forces colonel, said that it was perfectly possible to have a military without “dedovshchina.” The border troops show how this can be done, he continued. The officers live near the soldiers, and both are always carrying out real duties, thus reducing the chances for “non-standard” behavior by one group of soldiers toward another.

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