The fact that Russia needs to reform of, if not wholly ditch, military conscription is a no brainer. If the data presented by Major General Valery Kulikov is anything close to accurate, it is likely that the poor health of conscripts might hasten its demise. According to Kulikov, more than 614,000 out of 1.8 million young men received postponement waivers due to poor health in 2006. That is about 30% of all eligible men who took a medical exam for military service. Of that number, 200,000 got exemptions for lo body weight due to malnutrition, 109,000 suffered from scoliosis and flat feet, and over 100,000 were exempted for mental disorders.
From this data, Nezavisimaya gazeta concluded:
If this trend continues, considering that for the last five years Russia has experienced a “demographic gap,” the number of all conscripts in 2012 will stand at around 660,000 people. Of them only slightly more than 400,000 will be suitable for service. This is exactly what is the number of conscript soldiers presently in the army. In order for this figure to remain unchanged, the state will have to abolish the right to postpone service entirely or increase the number of contract soldiers.
Given this prospect, what did the Russian government do? Kulikov states that a plan to improve the health of potential conscripts was planned and approved by the Defense Military, but “at the very last moment, the Finance Ministry and the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry spoke against implementation of this program, which would definitely have a harmful impact on the fitness of conscripts for military service.” The reasons given was that these measures were already apart of the State’s programs focusing on the patriotic upbringing of young people.
Not mentioned in the article, however, was how many of these exemptions were due to bribes. For example, last week Novye Izvestiia reported that those seeking to avoid army service were the most likely to purchase fake dissertations. “When a youth buys a dissertation, he kills two birds with one stone,” Ruslan Greenberg told Novye Izvestiia. “First he becomes a “scholar.” Second, he is completely legally exempt from conscription. It is well known that the Russian army doesn’t take PhD candidates.”
“One guy I know bought his way out of service by bringing money to the recruiting office…as far as I understand about $4000. He was supposed to be conscripted but he didn’t have to go…”
“….a bribe gets it done a little faster…you pay a bribe and he’s obligated to help. so if you can’t get it done legally, pay the money and it gets it done. That’s my opinion.…”
“….I would think about that if it came to it. ..I have a lot of friends gone that route.. With the money you can earn in two years in Moscow it pays for itself…”
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By Sean — 5 years ago
My article, “The Shattered Self of Komsomol Civil War Memoirs,” has come out in the Fall 2012 issues of the Slavic Review. You can download it here. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Komsomol literature in the 1920s repeatedly evoked the memory of the civil war as a means to inspire young communists to sacrifice themselves for the construction of socialism. In the words of Alfred Kurella, “The heroic times of the civil war presently take on a great role in satisfying youth’s romantic proclivities.” The war, he explained, bound the Komsomol around a “single principle,” for it recalled a time when all “surrendered to one great purpose” and “individual identity was significant only as part of a large family. Everybody conformed to the principle that bestowed life or death.” Like other European nations, which used memories of World War I in the construction of national unity, the Komsomol recalled the civil war in order to unite youth around a common heroic memory. The civil war functioned as a “meaningful and sacred event,” providing “ever-present saints and martyrs, places of worship and a heritage to emulate.”
The desire to codify the civil war as a foundational event began with the creation of the Komsomol’s historical commission in December 1920: Istmol, or the Commission for the Study of the History of the Russian Youth Movement. Throughout the 1920s, Istmol collected documents and organized evenings of reminiscence and exhibitions to commemorate the participation in the civil war by members of the Komsomol. Istmol also solicited civil war veterans to write memoirs that would bring revolutionary heroism to life, adding color and depth to the official documents. Their publications varied in content and style, and recollections were often published with very few revisions. The result was a heterogeneous body of literature lacking a dominant narrative for civil war memory. The recollections constituted the main literary form of civil war commemoration since the obituaries, tributes to fallen Komsomol leaders, and articles highlighting the enthusiasm of and service provided by members of the Komsomol that were published during the war.
Komsomol civil war memoirs display an ambivalence toward the civil war. This contrasts with our broader understanding of the war’s memory as a heroic period in which communists sacrificed themselves wholeheartedly for the revolution. Alongside a narrative that framed the war as a “heroic epoch,” veterans voiced confusion, personal loss, hardship, physical suffering, and fear in the face of death. It is precisely because of these elements that Komsomol civil war narratives can be seen as part of the important phenomenon of war remembrance at the turn of the century. These narratives, like many of their European counterparts, are ultimately personal stories that attempt to come to terms with the personal transformations that war brought upon young soldiers and to render the strangeness of these experiences understandable to both the readers and the soldiers themselves.Post Views: 229
By Sean — 10 years ago
At some point, I don’t know when, Martin Luther proclaimed, “Who has the youth, has the future.” If this is true, then Putin has assured that his “plan” will continue well after Russia’s youth grow up and take the reigns of power. But Putin’s success in capturing the youth isn’t because of Nashi. It is more a product of the first generation’s formative years coinciding with Russia’s economic boom. The result is a generation, which many now call Putin’s Generation, that places wealth, careerism, and political conservativism as hallmarks of their identity. That is at least what VTsIOM’s Dmitry Polikanov says in his article “The New Russians.”
Here is a run down of Polikanov’s findings from surveying 18-24 year olds:
- Acquiring wealth (62%) trumps family (58%), children (45%), career (37%) and a good education (21%) as key goals. It’s quite interesting that a good education is at the opposite end of wealth, since one would expect the former providing a greater opportunity for get the latter. What it tells me is that for Russian youths, wealth is viewed as something obtainable without or in spite of education.
- Russian youth are more politically apathetic than the general population. Only 55% of youth said they didn’t engaged in a political action in the last two years compared to 47% of the population. The most common political act is voting. In fact, Polikanov finds that youth vote 5-10% less than the general population. Only 37% say they discuss politics. Youth’s political attitudes, when they have them, are “liberal Right,” and only 25% favor “the free market and political democracy.” On the whole most prefer non-political forms of organization and expression such as literary or cultural societies.
- Russian youth support the authorities. ” Putin’s youth aren’t looking for a democratic “revolution”, and don’t place much stake in the concept of a Western democratic model,” says Polikanov. About half (40-45%) support United Russia and other pro-government parties. They are completely turned off to both the extreme left and right. About 52-55% identify with the nation as “a concept capable of uniting the entire nation,” but only 9% agree with “Russia for the Russians.” “Unlike many liberals’ expectations in the 1990s,” Polikanov writes, “the new generation is mostly loyal to the authorities and reluctant to support the opposition in any form.”
- Their views of religion are increasingly more Protestant than Orthodox. About a quarter of religious youth emphasize personal salvation and morality rather than observing Orthodox customs and ritual.
Taken as a whole, Polikanov says that his findings show that “Putin’s youngsters are more individualistic, less romantic, more pragmatic and more focused on achieving personal success.”
Excerpts from interviews with young people paint a more nuanced picture. Here are a few quotes.
Alexander, 23, actor:
“A young actor can earn a decent enough wage, and this is improving with every year. Someone starting out, for example, will get $150-$200 for a day of filming. You start negotiating as you get more experience. Though you’ve got to hurry to get in ahead of someone else. You see, everything in Russia depends on the individual, on how much he actually wants things himself.”
Masha, 24, PhD student:
“Overall, though I don’t agree with much of what the current regime stands for, they have to be praised for getting us out of the chaos of the 1990s. Of course, you can criticize Putin for tightening the screws. But then again bringing order always requires some screws to be tightened.”
Denis , 26, student and small-scale entrepreneur:
“I’m interested in buying a car – not politics. . . As far as I’m concerned, success in life is about being one’s own boss. It’s about stability. Confidence. Family. And… well… I’d say its easier these days to have all four. Definitely compared to the 1990s. You can buy anything you need now. Apart from a flat – you can work day in, day out, and you still won’t have enough. I’ve heard the government are offering grants, but I’m not really at that stage yet. I’ve only just got together with a girl, you see. I’m hoping something serious will come of it.
Are our politicians changing things for the better? I can’t really answer that. There is progress on some fronts. Life is changing. But politics don’t interest me. I’m more occupied with other things, like buying a car. I’ll definitely do it this year, though I haven’t decided which one yet.”
Stepan, 25, father of two children:
“With kids, your problems will increase. But I’m optimistic.
How are things with money? Not easy. I’m always looking for the next ruble. But I don’t complain – if I need something, I’ll always find a way of getting it. It’s something I’ve learned in life – if you give yourself a goal and a deadline, you’ll do things. Of course, you’ll sometimes hit a brick wall, like Russian bureaucracy, but even this is getting easier. Not so long ago we even came across a helpful government official. . .
We’ve got relatives and friends who have moved abroad, but we want to stay and work in Russia. I know when my children start to grow up, my problems will increase. I know I can’t be entirely confident about the next 10 years. But I’m optimistic when I look to the future.”
Nikita , 24, classical musician:
“Politics are important to me. My sympathies lie on the side of liberal democracy, but the problem is that this have never had any sensible proponents in Russia. I didn’t vote out of principle, but the way things stand, I think I would probably have voted for Medvedev. He seemed to me the lesser evil.”
Angela, 20, student:
“My identity is in being Russian and Orthodox. . .
Am I interested in politics? Not really. I don’t watch news on the TV. I try not to watch TV at all. But I voted in the elections. For Medvedev. Why? I like Putin’s politics, and I think Medvedev will continue in the same way. It is thanks to Putin that Russia is on the up.
I think Russia is right to take a hard line abroad. You have to remember Russia takes up one sixth of the entire globe! The most important thing is that we avoid a war. I believe all people are brothers. Do I think a war is possible? Maybe. I think the US present a real danger with their politics.”
Alexander, 26, political activist and party worker:
“Being involved in public politics is like a drug.
How did it start? I’ve been actively involved in politics since my second year at university, but it was only in late 2004 when things really got interesting. This was when I founded a site – skazhi.net.
My idea was a response to an unpopular government decision to replace social benefits-in-kind with direct payments. We saw that people were upset, wanted to protest, but didn’t know where or how. So we decided to create a dynamic online map of Russia, with updates of all the protests going on around Russia. We ended up getting loads of coverage in the foreign media, including CNN.
As for me, I had great fun growing my beard and wearing a cap I wanted to play on the image of Che Guevara. I think that people quite liked it.
When the wave subsided, I left the public arena to work for a political party.
To be honest, I miss it loads. The exposure gave me a high… it was like a drug.”
Anna, 17, student:
“I don’t believe we are on a collision course with the West . .
Would I have taken part in the elections had I been 18? I think it would have probably been worth it. To be honest, I don’t feel any particular need or desire to vote.
Do I consider myself European? That’s a difficult one. I suppose I consider myself Russian first and foremost. Probably, yes, we are closer to Europe. Moscow at least. It is a completely different world in the eastern regions.
Today, everyone is talking about a clash of the West with Russia. I’m not sure about this. I’ve traveled a lot and I think that people generally respond to Russians well. The only exception to this is the Czechs, who for historical reasons really don’t like us.”Post Views: 138
By Sean — 11 years ago
By Vlad Tupikin
Translated by Thomas Campbell
Last Wednesday, the case of the murder of antifascist Alexander Riukhin (who was nine days away from his twentieth birthday when he was killed) was remitted to the courts for trial. On April 16, 2006, while on his way to a hardcore punk concert (hardcore is popular amongst Moscow’s young antifascists) on the outskirts of Moscow, he was stabbed to death. Several skinheads attacked Sasha and his friend Yegor. There was no struggle to speak of—only a murder.
Three of the attackers were detained, and Nazi paraphernalia and literature were found in their homes. The other three assailants are still at large. Everything then, it would seem, is clear? Don’t make snap judgments. The three assailants in custody—Vasily Reutsky and Andrei Antsiferov, members of Slavic Union; and Alexander Shitov, a member of the Format 18 gang—will be tried for premeditated group hooliganism (Article 213 Part 2 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code), premeditated non-grievous bodily harm (Article 115), and assault (Article 116). The murder itself is being treated as a separate case. Only Alexander Parinov, Nikita Tikhonov (who are still at large), and a third, unidentified, attacker, are under suspicion for that particular crime.
Lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who is representing the victim’s mother, Tatyana Riukhin, told a Regnum correspondent, “Every effort is being made to play down the threat to public safety posed by the actions of Reutsky, Antsiferov, and Shitov. There is this applicable albeit rather cynical rule of thumb: you got a corpse, you got a murder case. So it seems odd to me that the exception to this rule is the case of an antifascist murdered by radical right-wing activists.”
It is likewise odd that no one has yet been brought to trial for the murder of another twenty-year-old antifascist, Petersburger Timur Kacharava. It was also right-wingers who stabbed him to death. On November 13, 2005, a group of them attacked Kacharava and his friend Maxim outside the Bukvoyed chain bookstore on Ligovsky Prospect, in downtown Petersburg. The crime scene is a busy, crowded place: tourist buses headed for Finland depart from the spot, and the Moscow Train Station is down the street. There was no struggle. The assailants swooped down on the young men and inflicted several blows. One of these blows—a knife to the neck—proved fatal for Timur.
The young men who took part in this well-publicized crime have been in custody since December 2005. In their official statements, Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko and Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov commented on the fascist nature of the crime and the need to combat xenophobia in Russia’s northern capital. The investigation has been dragging on, however, and the word among Petersburg’s antifascists is that the authorities will attempt to scrap this case as well, charging those under arrest with hooliganism and letting them off with suspended sentences (or no sentences at all).
Finally, one more story, fresh from the presses. On December 22, 2006, a homemade bomb went off in the stairwell of a residential building in Liublino, a southwestern Moscow suburb. A swastika had been drawn on the wall next to where the bomb was discovered. A can containing the explosives was concealed behind a heating radiator; apparently, the bomb was set off by wires that connected it to a placard bearing an offensive nationalist message: “In apartment no. [X] there are nigg. . . .”The bomb (or rather, the placard) was found on the afternoon of the twenty-second by twenty-year-old Tigran as he was exiting the building. Tigran, who happens to live in the very apartment identified on the placard, was on the point of grabbing it when he noticed the wires. While he didn’t manage to get a good look at the bomb, he did have the presence of mind to run to the police. They sent a team over, followed by the bomb squad. The device went off as the police were attempting to defuse it.
The press have treated the incident as yet another nationalist attack on Moscow’s non-Slavic residents. One more Armenian kid (or so they say) nearly fell victim to right-wing radicals: a routine tale in today’s Moscow, however horrible this might seem. Just as routinely, the prosecutor’s office opened a hooliganism investigation—not an attempted murder investigation. And Tigran was questioned as a witness to a crime, not as a crime victim!
This case isn’t so simple, however. Tigran is the Moscow-born son of Muscovite parents. (The press has been circulating the absurd and false report that he and his family have lived in Moscow for only ten years.) And Tigran isn’t a mere “Caucasian youth.” He is a Moscow antifascist and a former coworker of the website Antifa.ru. And he’s a fan of hardcore punk music like his murdered age-mates Timur Kacharava and Alexander Riukhin.
Everything points to the conclusion that Tigran was slated to become the third in a series of murdered young antifascists. His photograph had been posted on Nazi websites and he had received a number of death threats. Swastikas and the message “Tigran, say hello to Timur” were painted on the fence of a construction site across the street from his building. Several times, he was attacked at concerts or met at his front door by young men who appeared to be “boneheads.” (“Boneheads”—also known, in Russian, as “bonies”—is the name that antifascists give to Nazi skinheads so as not to confuse them with antifascist skinheads, who also exist.) Not the shy, retiring type, Tigran emerged victorious from these skirmishes.
And then there was the bomb.
While the prosecutor’s office tries to ignore the case’s political aspect and opens an investigation into rather minor offences, the Federal Security Service (FSB) does see the connection between Tigran’s case and politics. As the police were taking his testimony down at the precinct, FSB officers paid his mother a house call. (Warped by the force of the bomb blast, the front door of their building couldn’t be closed.) Taking advantage of her emotional shock, they confiscated some of his things without encountering any resistance from her. According to Tigran, they took buttons featuring crossed-out swastikas, sew-on jacket patches, and—most important of all—his computer.
Tigran even got a receipt from FSB officers stating they’d confiscated the computer. As final exams loom, he has lost access to all his course notes and files. He’ll have to think of something to tell the professors at his institute.
I want to make it particularly clear that, as far as I know, neither Timur Kacharava nor Alexander Riukhin was a member of any antifascist organization. They simply held antifascist views and were the sort of guys who practiced what they preached. Timur played in an antifascist hardcore band and, on Sundays, he helped the Petersburg branch of Food Not Bombs hand out hot meals to homeless people. (We should recall that the homeless—or, as they’re known by the old Soviet police acronym, bomzhy—are also objects of hatred for young Nazis, along with non-Slavs and members of such youth subcultures as punks and rappers.)
When I asked him whether he’d been in fights with Nazis, Tigran answered in the affirmative. “What else can you do if they attack? Let yourself get beat up?”
“It was the Nazis themselves who turned us into antifascists,” the former Antifa.ru coworker continues. “We’re all members of one subculture or another, one group or another. These groups often encountered fascist violence; they often were victims of attacks. At some point you lose your self-respect unless you answer blow for blow. Especially when the police and the state mainly do almost nothing to stop the street-level fascist threat.”
“They sometimes sling the accusation at us young antifascists,” Tigran continues, “that the Nazis would have calmed down long ago were it not for us. They say we’re like an irritating red flag for them. According to the people who blame us, Nazi street violence would have tapered off were it not for us. It’s all exactly the other way around. For a long time there were no antifa. They finally emerged because Nazi violence was showing no signs of going away; on the contrary, it just kept on expanding. Besides, it’s also common knowledge that at first the Nazis attacked people with non-Slavic complexions and rank-and-file youth subculture kids who were weaker. The antifa showed up later in reaction, as a response on the part of alternative antifascist youth.”
“Look,” says Tigran, “when the fascists attack, their goal is to cripple or kill their victims: they use knives or even firearms. When they fight the fascists, the antifa, on the contrary, don’t make it their goal to physically eliminate them or inflict serious injuries. The fascists just need to understand that they aren’t here forever; they’re not immortal themselves. They need to experience in person what the value of a human life is, the value of every individual. Maybe if they get thumped a couple times by some regular guys, the small fry, the underage Nazis—the teenagers who shave their heads just because it’s cool, because they want to be feared—will figure out that there’s nothing that cool about being a fascist. Maybe a few of them will even quit.”
Tigran believes, however, that, since they’re a violent street movement, you can’t stop the Nazis as a whole by fighting them. That is just a holding action, the means the youth subcultures use to defend themselves against the Nazis. “If the authorities won’t put them in prison, the Nazi idiots will sense their own impunity and start doing God knows what. On their closed-access Internet chat sites they’ve long been discussing organizing terrorist strikes at markets and even in government buildings. But they haven’t decided yet whether to pin the blame on immigrants or take responsibility themselves.”
“How do you know this?” I ask Tigran.
“Our antifa hackers cracked these sites,” he replies. He claims that these same sites post instructions for the manufacture and use of homemade explosive devices, like the one that went off in his own stairwell.
“How are you doing overall after what’s happened?” I ask.
“I’m okay. Friends helped us fix the front door, they collected money. Now I need money for a good lawyer: I’ve got to drum that up. So I have plenty to do. It’s just that I always have this feeling that they’re about to blow up my front door.”
Isn’t Tigran afraid that unwelcome guests will descend on him again?
“They’ve already shown up—the night after the blast, when the front door was still hanging open. At four in the morning the intercom rang. The voice was young and rude: he said he was delivering a telegram. Then there was movement out on the stairs. Someone with his face hidden in a scarf and a hood dashed past our door, first on his way upstairs, and then again on his way down. Our cat got spooked and I looked through the peephole: ‘guests.’ I hollered at my sister to call the cops again and I dashed out into the stairwell myself, to try and chase them down. But you can’t run very fast in slippers: I didn’t catch them. And the police didn’t, either, although they did come running fairly quickly with their machine guns. Apparently they were staked out somewhere nearby.”
This whole phantasmagoria is really happening now, as Moscow prepares to greet the New Year. Personally, I’m finding it harder and harder to drive it from the threshold of my perception, to pretend that it’s all a matter of hot young blood, the desire to mix it up a bit, to rumble with the other gang. Knives have long ago become part of the game. And now it’s come to bombs.
It is completely obvious that the problem calls for intervention not only from the police, but also from politicians and educators. Is the officially sponsored Nashi (Our People) initiative, whose members have declared themselves a democratic antifascist movement, enough? Obviously not. Politicians who don’t want to farm the issue of antifascism out to the Kremlin and its political operatives should think hard about how to react meaningfully to the new alignment of forces.
Fascism and xenophobia aren’t simply the latest election campaign trump cards in the government’s stacked deck. They are social realities. Those who missed the point of the (November 4) Russian March shouldn’t miss the meaning of Nazi street terror. Apparently, though, our opposition politicians, who are chauffeured to the venues of the latest conference or joint demo with the nationalists (“moderate” nationalists, or so they imagine), don’t really notice what’s happening out on the streets. Nor do they notice that the Nazis have long been trying to run them.
The mass media quite often don’t pay attention to this fact, either. In the editorial offices of one respectable publication I was recently informed that a press release about the Sasha Riukhin murder case from “some Antifa.ru or other” wasn’t sufficient cause for them to react in print. “Especially since they’re definitely not registered,” the editor told me as he looked me sternly in the eye. I don’t know whether they’re registered or not. I do know that you don’t need to be registered to arm yourself with a knife or make a bomb. And the Nazis know this, too.
Vlad Tupikin frequently writes on anti-fascism, Russian anarchism and the anti-globalization movement in Russia.Post Views: 178