Staunton, September 24 – Last weekend, Russian military retirees and their families took part in demonstrations in 12 cities of the Volga-Ural military district both to call attention to their plight and to advance political demands, including calls for internal troops not to obey orders to use force against the people and for the dismissal of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
As organizers pointed out, “the official media” in Moscow “modestly kept quiet” about these protests, and details about them are only now coming to light in the blogosphere, on some regional sites, and on opposition portals in the Russian capital (news.babr.ru/?IDE=88558, www.pbrus.org/main/557-sobytiya-v-ulyanovske-voennosluzhashhie.html, and www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4C9C8E1C6E824).
Organizers of the meetings, which attracted 400 people in Ulyanovsk and smaller numbers in the other cities, pointed out that “military personnel are a special part of the civilian population of the country … people who have consciously chosen their fate to defend their country and their people from aggressors.”
“And having chosen service to the Fatherland,” the organizers said, “the country and government guarantee them social security and defense after they take their pensions as a special category of citizens.” But in recent years, they continued, that contract has broken down: military people have served the state but the state has not served them.
The continuing reform of the army and fleet have “shameless” thrown many officers and their families “into the streets,” leaving them without the most basic requirements. And these people include “not only elderly soldiers but also young officers aged 30” and wives who while following their husbands did not have a chance to work.
Faced with this situation, the organizers continued, Russian military retirees have written senior officers and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin but “they have not received a single answer.” And consequently, “beginning on May 19, 2010, the military personnel of Ulyanovsk have begun on a monthly basis to picket and advance social demands.”
(The 19th of the month was chosen because it refers to the number of the article in the Russian Constitution about military service. In this respect, this latest movement among military retirees is an echo of efforts by human rights activists to protest violations of basic rights every 31st of the month.)
“Recognizing perfectly well that the defense of social rights is a matter of politics, the military people have been supported by social-political organizations like the Unified Civic Front, Solidarity, RNDS, the Other Russia, the KPRF, LDPR and also the population of the city of Ulyanovsk.” And now these demonstrations are spreading and becoming more political.
“At the present time,” the organizers say, “the people have come down with ‘an immune deficit of faith,’ an analogue to HIV/AIDS only for society as a whole.” Indeed, “a vicious circle” has developed: The powers that be ignore the people, even those who have “defended and protected the state.” Consequently, military retirees must protest.
One participant, Boris Smekhnov, a lieutenant colonel retired from the tank forces and head of the Unified Regional Staff for the Defense of the Social Rights of Military People and Their Families, told the Ulyanovsk protest that “we understand perfectly well that no less than 80 percent of the population is dissatisfied with the policies being implemented by the powers.”
“Even those who serve and receive good pay today are dissatisfied with it because they understand very well that they do not have a future,” Smekhnov continued. That is because, he said, “the people no longer have any power in the country, and the defense capability of the country is at a low level.”
More pointedly, he said he was concerned by “the establishment in Russia of a large number of internal forces. In the Oath,” he pointed out, “there are no words about fighting with one’s own people. This is something which officers of the internal forces must remember” and it is something which the powers that be appear to have forgotten.
The Ulyanovsk meeting adopted appeals to serving officers and soldiers and to President Dmitry Medvedev. In them, the protesters asserted that “Our Motherland is in Danger… not from external enemies but from the pathetic policy of the power of the property owners who conceal themselves behind a distorted image about the state.”
They then identify the following eight problems in Russia today: First, “power is concentrated in the hands of a single party ‘United Russia.’” Second, the country’s social-economic and political crisis is deepening. Third, the armed forces are being destroyed. Fourth, industry and agriculture are collapsing.
Fifth, national projects have failed. Sixth, the gap between rich and poor is increasing at a fantastic rate. Seventh, life in Ulyanovsk oblast is far below the all-Russia average. And eighth, the powers that be are “shamelessly using the administrative resource” to ensure their survival in office while “completely violating the constitutional rights of the voters.”
Consequently, they made the following demands; the dismissal of Putin and his government, the dismissal of the regional and city authorities, an end to state financing of “pocket media,” a cut in the size of the bureaucracy, and an end to billing the population for communal services.
In addition, these appeals called for the adoption of “decisive measures” to end the decay of the military, an increase in pensions for all citizens “except highly paid bureaucrats,” and “the return of the state rest homes to the oblast and city council of veterans. If their demands are ignored, the participants said, they will stage hunger strikes in the future.