Thursday, March 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Religion Threatens to Replace Ethnicity as Driving Source of ‘Dedovshchina’ in Russian Military, Expert Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 4 – The often brutal mistreatment of incoming draftees by more senior soldiers and officers -- known in Russian as “dedovshchina” -- has often followed ethnic lines, but now, according to a Moscow specialist, there is a growing danger that it will take place on religious ones, setting the stage for clashes between Orthodox Christian and Muslim soldiers.
Speaking to a Tyumen conference on religion and law last week, Anatoly Pchelintsev, vice president of the Slavic Legal Center, said that with the appearance of chaplains in the Russian army, there is the risk of “a new type of dedovshchina,” one in which “the religious majority” of any unit may attack minority faiths (
The Moscow specialist added that in his view, the new chaplaincy corps will undermine Russian legal prohibitions against the establishment of religious communities in military units by giving the appearance of state support for this or that religion and especially for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Pchelintsev’s words were backed by Fatykh Garifullin, the head of the Tyumen kaziat of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Asiatic Part of Russia. In an interview with, the Muslim lawyer, who participated in the conference, said he was in “100 percent” agreement with the Moscow specialist (
Like Pchelintsev, the Muslim judge said, he believes that Russian officials and religious leaders must consider very carefully how and even if they introduce chaplains in various military units. “Otherwise,” he said, “religious dedovshchina in the forces is inevitable and can have terrible consequences.”
According to Garifullin, the chaplaincy corps as currently planned will exacerbate religious differences among those in uniform just as the division of school children as a result of the introduction of courses on religions threatens to do. Indeed, he continued, such divisions place a “slow acting mine” under the state.
And the kazi added that he also fully agreed with Pchelintsev that any further “tilt” by the Russian government toward Orthodoxy not only undermines the Constitution but could lead to “a second 1917,” a reference to the revolutions which destroyed first the tsarist regime and then the Russian Provisional Government.
Garifullin also noted that he has been working to ensure that officials in Tyumen include representatives of Islam in patriotic and commemorative meetings so that Muslims who fought for the Soviet or Russian state in the past do not feel excluded. He indicated that there had been some progress regionally in that regard but that there was much more to be done.
But he suggested that Moscow officials appear to be moving in the opposite and dangerous direction. At present, he remarked, the Russian government is proposing to use taxpayer funds to build an Orthodox cathedral in the center of Paris, a clear violation of Russia’s constitutional status as a secular state.
If Moscow really wants to support religious faith there, Garifullin said, it should construct not a cathedral for one faith but rather a building in which there would be space for the followers of all faiths to practice their religion. One room could be for Jews, he said, another for Muslims, and still a third – “the largest, we would agree” – for Orthodox Christians.
Garifullin’s objections to the plans for the Paris Orthodox cathedral are unlikely to gain much traction in the Russian government, but his and Pchelintsev’s concerns about the growing threat of “dedovshchina” and especially the religiously-based kind appear already to have had an impact.
Today’s “Argumenty i fakty” reports that sources in the defense ministry are saying that Tamara Fraltsova, a former United Russian Duma deputy, will soon be appointed to head that agency’s Main Educational Administration which is charged with fighting “dedovshchina” of all kinds (

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