Dedovshchina in the Post-Soviet Military: Hazing of Russian Army Conscripts in Comparative Perspective
Sperling, Valerie, Canadian Slavonic Papers
Françoise Daucé and Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, eds. Dedovshchina in the Post-Soviet Military: Hazing of Russian Army Conscripts in Comparative Perspective. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2006. 299 pp.
Hazing in the Russian army reached a gruesome new height when, on 31 December 2005, Private Andrei Sychov was beaten so violently at the Cheliabinsk Tank School that his genitals and both of his legs had to be amputated afterward. Sadly, such extreme incidents represent only the tip of the iceberg within Russia's military forces. Dauce and SiecaKozlowski's timely volume presents fourteen chapters on a range of military hazing-related issues across six countries, combining a concentrated dose of disturbing information about hazing in Russia's army with much-needed comparative analysis about its causes and possible prevention.
The hazing of army conscripts, while not unique to Russia, takes a strikingly violent form there and thus merits close attention. As Belgian military sociologist Joris Von Bladel explains in his chapter on Russian army culture, dedovshchina is the violent hazing of new conscripts (in the first six months of their two-year term of service) by conscripts who have undergone more than six months' service; those in their last six months are "senior" conscripts who enjoy various privileges and higher states, including immunity from such treatment (p. 287). The volume's editors argue that dedovshchina intensified in the decade following the USSR's collapse, in part because of economic liberalization which exacerbated the abuses, adding to them the economic exploitation of newer conscripts (pp. 18 and 21). Their main thesis is that dedovshchina stems from a combination of variables, including the military's economic woes, Soviet and tsarist cultural legacies, and the disappointing lack of democratization in contemporary Russia.
Data from the Russian prosecutor-general's office confirms that the number of reported "hazing-related" crimes has continued to rise, increasing by 25 percent between 2003 and 2005 alone. As of August 2006,17 deaths and over 100 injuries had resulted from roughly 3,500 reported hazing incidents so far that year. Such abuses provoke thousands of desertions each year, and, not surprisingly, dedovshchina is the most significant factor leading to draft evasion (p. 23). As such it constitutes a matter of enormous concern to the Russian government and public alike.
Dedovshchina became a matter of growing debate as a result of efforts by committees of soldiers' mothers tiiat formed in the late 1980s. Historian Julie Elkner's chapter presents the history of efforts to organize against dedovshchina during die Gorbachev era, and finds that since its founding in 1989, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers (CSM) has successfully challenged the romanticized image of military service to a beneficent state (p. …