Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Russian Draftees, Families Fight against Military Service

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Russian Draftees, Families Fight against Military Service

Article excerpt

The accused, a pale young man named Alexander Seriogin, fidgeted in the dock as a judge glared at him.

"Exactly why don't you want to serve in the army and do your duty?" demanded the magistrate, a woman.

"I don't like those generals. They don't serve the people," mumbled the skinny 20-year-old. "How do you know what they're like if you never go to the army?" the judge shot back. "You've just heard rumors." "Is the war in Chechnya just a rumor?" responded Seriogin, glaring back at her. "Is it my duty to kill my compatriots? Is it my duty to build a dacha for some general?" That exchange last month in a Moscow criminal court was an echo of a larger, louder struggle raging across Russia these days, as the army attempts to fill its autumn quota of recruits in the face of mass resistance by draftees and their families. In a nation that once considered army service a necessary social and patriotic passage, where draft dodging was the province of a few daring political dissidents, the military must now strain to chase down each eligible young man. "Everything has turned upside down, and it's not the same army I served in," said Sergei, 43, a Moscow veteran who is desperately seeking a deferment for his son. "We hear that the soldiers are terrorized by the officers. They have no food. And they fight in a war no one understands." Every week, hundreds of parents like Sergei, too frightened to give their last names, crowd into vast, dimly lit halls for informational meetings called by the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, one of Russia's few true grass-roots movements. They come to share their trauma and learn the routines of filing for exemptions, wrangling certificates of ill health from friendly doctors, prolonging legal appeals and, if nothing else works, sending their boys into hiding. Unaccustomed to lobbying, fighting the system and protesting collectively, the parents sit quietly on hard wooden chairs, intently writing down every word that the Soldiers' Mothers representative tells them. "I'm going to tell you how to protect your rights within the law," instructed Lyudmila Obraztseva. "You mothers and fathers - you have to work hard at this! Your kids don't care about anything when they're 18. All they care about is rock 'n' roll!" Among her tidbits of advice: Don't accept an army medical committee ruling that your son is fit unless it is signed by seven doctors, as the law requires. Encourage the boy to get married and have a child: Fathers with children under the age of 3 are exempt from the draft. If your son can work as a doctor or teacher, send him to a rural area because he can then get a special deferment. Don't try to bribe anyone, Obraztseva advised, while acknowledging that bribery is the tactic of choice for Russians with enough money. Send registered letters. …

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