Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: February 5, 2004


5 February 2004, Volume 5, Number 4
IN FOCUS
RUSSIAN SOLDIERS' MOTHERS DEPLORE ABUSIVE ARMY. A question from a Russian soldier's mother to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Moscow last week shone a spotlight on continuing problems of abuses and noncombat deaths in the Russian army, the slowness of military reform, and disappointment about a new law on alternative service. At a meeting arranged for Powell with representatives from Russian civil society groups at Spaso House on 27 January, Ida Kuklina of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers characterized Powell's relatively upbeat remarks about the Kremlin's reforms as "mistaken." "The army in Russia is the mutilated copy of the Soviet army," she was quoted as saying in a transcript released by the State Department. Her organization has been active for more than a decade in defending young men drafted into conditions that are often brutal and sometimes deadly even outside of combat zones.

Kuklina's solution, the remedy advocated by many groups seeking change, is to abolish involuntary conscription, and to work for a viable alternative service until that becomes possible. She cited as evidence of recent abuses the case of conscripts being transported in Magadan Oblast who were exposed to freezing conditions, one of whom died from the exposure. Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov has opened an investigation into the affair, vesti.ru reported 20 January, and Major General Viktor Kozhushko, head of the Defense Ministry's department responsible for new recruits, is being charged and questioned. "This group has the responsibility of monitoring the transport of recruits around the clock," commented Savenkov. Three other officers are also being charged, and four others are being interrogated as suspects. Savenkov also said a total of 173 individual medical exams were made of those who fell ill and are being reviewed. The prominence of the story on the official news channel and the rapidity of the prosecution are indications that the Kremlin is aware of potentially serious popular backlash from the incident.

Powell indicated to the soldier's mother that he was familiar with the tragedy "where soldiers were exposed to very difficult conditions and one died," and said that he knew "the leadership here in Moscow was terribly shocked by that and I know that investigations are underway." He noted that he had encouraged "transformations" in his talks with Russian military leaders over the years, and discussed the advantages of a volunteer contract force as opposed to a conscripted army. In recent conversations with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Powell said, they discussed a "shift from a conscript to at least partially a contract-volunteer force."

"I think additional pressure will be put on the system to treat soldiers with respect and to give them the best working and living conditions possible," noted Powell. The Soldiers' Mothers and other like-minded groups have been placing that pressure on authorities, with some success, and the fact that Ida Kuklina was first in line to ask a question to Powell was an indication of the visibility and respect the women's movement has gained over the years. They have been facing serious frustrations, most often just in getting information about their sons. Relatives of soldiers from Tula who became ill in Magadan, for example, said they still had no information about the recruits, Regnum news agency reported 29 January. Renat Abitov said his brother left for the service wearing warm boots and a hat, but his coat was too light because he had no idea he would be serving in Magadan, Regnum reported. His family thought he was stationed outside of Moscow and learned about his illness only from television news.

In 2003, some 1,200 soldiers and officers were killed in noncombat conditions in the Russian Army, Colonel General Chief Military Prosecutor Savenkov announced in September, "Trud" reported on 6 September. "More than a thousand lives of young men in military uniform have been lost in traffic accidents, 'games' with weapons, barracks hooliganism, suicides, and due to the disregard of elementary safety requirements in handling combat equipment," said "Trud." About the same number have been killed every year since 1999, although the Soldiers' Mothers have said that some deaths are not reported. While the figures have been reduced in recent years with more attention to the issue, the numbers are still far too high, and higher than other industrialized nations with standing armies. Some of the tragedies capture national and even international attention, such as the sinking of a decommissioned nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, in which seven sailors drowned and two others who escaped from the vessel also perished. In this case one officer, Captain Sergei Zhemchuzhnov, has been targeted for prosecution because he headed the operation to tow the K-159 submarine to a disposal site. The flight director of two military helicopters in the Far East permitted to make a paired landing will also face trial, said "Trud," after the propellers became entangled and caused a crash, killing the crews. Another two senior submarine officers were killed in the Northern Fleet after they went out on the top deck of their submarine during a storm to repair equipment, although this is prohibited. They were washed overboard into icy waters and a rescue attempt failed.

The number of those who died in accidents of this type are not the only type of deaths. Citing the Military Prosecutor's Office, "Trud" says 2,500 people were reported as victims of hazing in 2003; of these 16 died, five being killed by their own commanders. The figures for the whole year were not yet available and were considered too low, says "Trud." In 2002, 800 soldiers and officers died at the hands of their fellow servicemen. In once incident, Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Baranenko sent eight subordinates to dig a trench for his dacha, and one soldier was buried alive when the walls caved in. "Trud" also cited the figure for suicides: about 300 per year, 70 percent of them first-year soldiers. Adding up these noncombat deaths, "Trud" concluded that Russia had lost more in the last years outside of war zones in Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Abkhazia than in the entire Afghan occupation.

The Soldiers' Mothers groups are among the largest and strongest civic movements in Russia. And there are indications that even parents who are not formally participating in this movement are willing to fight back and that even a recently more intimidated Russian press is willing to cover their struggles. A mother in Osinovo told "Vechernyaya Kazan" how military authorities continue to harass her in search of her son, who went AWOL after being forcibly drafted, hro.org reported 26 January. Irina Moshkovo blames inhumane treatment by the army for her runaway son. She tells how soldiers came to her apartment and knocked persistently on the door at 5 am on 18 December. They roused her draft-age son and said a bus was waiting outside to take him to the recruiting station. When she asked if she could take some time to collect some warm clothing and food for his journey she was told not to worry, that her son would undergo his medical exam and would return home soon. He never returned. On 19 December, she set out to Kazan to the central recruiting station in search of her son, and found other parents waiting outside in the cold for news of their children. Some had been waiting in vain for several days. Finally, an officer told her that her son had fled from the military. In the following days, draft board officials served her son notices at her home in the wee hours. She discovered that other young men in the town had also been drafted suddenly and were unable to prepare warm coats. Currently, Moshkovo is filing a complaint to the military prosecutor of the Kazan District and waiting for her son to reappear. Military representatives told "Vechernaya Kazan" that recruits were only taken forcibly from their homes if they failed to appear after their draft summonses. They believe that parents are hiding sons who have gone AWOL.

...AND NEW LAW ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE IS NO ALTERNATIVE, SAY ACTIVISTS. Yuri Dzhibladze of the Center for the Development of Human Rights and Democracy has been campaigning for many years for a law on alternative service. He helped to establish a coalition that has 45 regional consultation centers to help young men facing the draft. The new Law on Alternative Civilian Service went into effect on 1 January and requires that young men submit statements about the desire to do civilian service six months in advance. Only a few dozen people around Russia will have the paperwork ready in order to begin alternative service next fall, Dzhibladze told RFE/RL's Russian Service in January. He believes that those seeking alternative service, including conscientious objectors, will be able to take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights if they fail to have their rights honored by Russian courts. Using these legal remedies, says Dzhibladze, "we can correct, or break, if you like, this repressive law." By that he meant various flaws in the law that make it difficult to invoke, as well as the lack of an enabling federal law, usually what is required in Russia to enforce constitutional guarantees. For one, the new law sets the period of alternative service at 3.5 years, which many youths feel is too long. Dzhibladze has called on draft-age men to fight for amendments to the law and urged them to come to local coalition centers and other human rights and Soldiers' Mothers' offices to learn their rights and the best method for avoiding combat duty, "because a serious force in the person of the military machine is opposing them," he commented. Dzhibladze is also concerned that authorities may abolish medical, family, and educational deferments from the draft, and switch draftees to alternative service.

Already some recruits are trying to use the legal system to fight what they view as an unfair law. On 23 January, Mikhail Fadeyev, a resident of Perm, with the assistance of Perm human-rights advocate Roman Maranov, appealed to the Constitutional Court, protesting the length of the period of alternative service. That is all he can do, since he has not yet been selected for alternative service. In his defense Fadeyev, who describes himself as a religious believer, is calling the law "unconstitutional," saying it discriminates against those who, for reasons of conviction or belief, do not wish to perform military service. He plans to press the case further and complain if he his sent to a military organization to perform alternative service, which contradicts the civilian nature of the concept of alternative service. He and other activists say that the right to alternative service guaranteed in the Russian Constitution should not be construed as meaning unarmed service in the armed forces. Another feature of the law he will protest is the requirement that would-be draftees must apply for the status six months before they are drafted, i.e., while they are still minors. Activists say these hurdles will significantly reduce the number of draftees who will successfully obtain alternative service and, in any event, doing jobs at army units -- even if they are not technically bearing arms -- seems to contradict the spirit of the intention of alternative service.

Sergei Krivenko, secretary of the coalition "For a Democratic Alternative Service Law," says activists have dubbed the law "the law on No Alternative," the Agency for Social Information reported on 29 January. He believes it does not comply with constitutional guarantees of civil rights and does nothing to solve Russia's social problems. Recruits would be forced to perform their "alternative service" in the Armed Forces units themselves, in remote areas, and not in community service near their homes. He called the 3.5-year service period "the longest in the world." One of the difficulties in organizing alternative service is the lack of housing connected to jobs.

This week, groups in the coalition are convening in Moscow for an international conference sponsored by the St. Petersburg Dialogue Forum, the Heinrich Boll Foundation of Germany, the Commission for Human Rights attached to the President of the Russian Federation, and For A Democratic Alternative Civilian Service, hro.org reported 29 January. They planned to compare alternative service in Germany and Russia and develop strategies to continue the campaign in Russia. Organizers said that despite working on the law for nine years, members of the State Duma could not develop a clear concept of alternative service that would gain public approval. With a more conservative parliament, activists were concerned that the amendments would continue to fail. This week, deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Khakasiya in eastern Siberia filed draft amendments to the law on military service urging that deferments be scrapped for students who do not study in state accredited universities, hro.ru reported 2 February, citing "Nezavisimaya Gazeta." The military is concerned about a shortage of recruits. According to the Defense Ministry, some 46 state and municipal colleges without accreditation have students using draft deferments, and as many as 10,000 students could be affected, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported.

Firemen, policemen, and others who thought their uniformed service would keep them from being drafted into the army have been informed that they, too, may face the draft. Most of the 16 members of the defense committee in parliament who are to review the draft amendments are active and retired officers and generals. They include Colonel General Albert Makashov of the Communist Party, who has gained infamy for his anti-Semitic remarks in the Duma; Aleksandr Korzhakov, former chief of security for Boris Yeltsin; and Colonel General Georgii Shpak of the Rodina (Motherland) bloc.

They also said that authorities had yet to decide what kind of "socially-useful" work the recruits to alternative service would perform and how they might have an impact on Russian society. They hoped to gain experience from their German counterparts, who have had 40 years of alternative service in their country, hro.org reported 29 January. The St. Petersburg Forum was started in 2000 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to establish regular contacts "in the civilian dimension." Members of the Duma and Soviet of the Federation, the Presidential Administration, the Labor Ministry, and Defense Ministry and other officials as well as NGOs were slated to attend.

MOLDOVA: OPPOSITION STRUGGLES IN THE SHADOWS OF OTHERS' SUCCESS. In Georgia, a protest movement has managed to bring a democratic president to power. In Ukraine, liberal parliamentarians have succeeded in grinding their sessions to a halt to protest the president's efforts to scrap direct voting and have now reached a compromise. Even Belarusian human-rights activist compelled the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week to censure their government's refusal to investigate the disappearances of public figures.

Yet Moldova, another former Soviet republic located between Romania and Ukraine with a population of 4.4 million, often remains in the shadows, forgotten when pundits talk about "the last dictator in Europe" or "the death of communism." Moldovans elected a communist president in the last vote, and the country remains split, politically and geographically. Russian-speakers, mainly Ukrainians and Russians in the Transdniestr Region, where Russian troops remain, have supported a separate republic. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has attempted to broker an agreement to establish a federalist system and called for the removal of Russian troops; Russia refuses to withdraw them on the time table established at an OSCE summit in Istanbul and later reaffirmed at another summit in Portugal. PACE has attempted to mediate a settlement between anti-Communist opposition forces and the Communist government, with some success.

Most of the nongovernmental groups in the capital of Chisinau have taken the side of the opposition parties, which include the Party Popular Christian Democratic (PPCD), Social Liberal Alliance, the Social Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Reform Party, the Green Alliance, the Democratic Party, and the Centrist Union. Last year, opposition demonstrations swelled to 50,000 people, as students were angered at what they felt was Russification of history books and raised issues about Moldovan identity and the struggle to break from the Soviet past. On 24 November, groups including the Writers Union, the Cinematographers Union, the Journalists Union, Lawyers for Human Rights, Liberty House, Agency for Legal Education and Assistance, Euro-Atlantic Association of Moldova, the Philosophers' Society, Rasaritul Romanesc, Human Rights and Public Liberties, St. George Peasants Association and others signed a communique protesting plans to federalize Moldova.

Their action came in reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russian troops would not be removed from Moldovan soil for at least 20 years. The groups formed the Committee to Defend the Independence and Constitution of the Republic of Moldova and took their appeals to European institutions. They believe that before any discussion of federalization can be held, Russia should remove its troops and the eastern part of Moldova should be democratized.

When Russian deputy presidential administration chief Dmitrii Kozak released a memo on 15 November last year floating plans to maintain the Russian military presence, opposition groups responded in a collective statement that this plan "would transform our state into a protectorate of the Russian Federation" and that the move was being made because of Moldova's plans to eventually join the European Union, and NATO expansion to the East. Kozak came to Chisinau to sign a Transdniestr settlement agreement, but the Moldovan government refused. Some analysts speculated that the "rose revolution" underway in Georgia at the time was emboldening Moldovans not to cave to the Russian deal to give greater autonomy to Transdniestr. Kozak denied the Georgian events had any relevance and blamed "the absence of political courage" on the failure to reach an agreement," rferl.org reported 26 November.

Galvanized by the memorandum fiasco, tens of thousands turned out on 30 November demanding the resignation of the government, rferl.org reported the same day. Police beat demonstrators, including women, elderly people, and children, opposition leaders reported, and tramped on the Moldovan national flags as well as the flags of the European Union.

At an OSCE summit in Maastricht in December, Western diplomats pressed Russia on its commitments regarding Moldova, saying Russia's continued presence in Moldova violated the Conventional Arms Treaty in Europe. Russia angrily accused the OSCE of "torpedoing" its negotiations on Transdniestr. Discussions are now underway to move to a "pentagonal" negotiation format that would include the EU and the U.S. along with Russia, Moldova, and the Tiraspol administration, which strongly opposes Russia's pullout. The parties will meet again in the trilateral format on 24 February.

In recent weeks, the PPCD has once again organized protests against Russia's refusal to remove troops and the Communist government's authoritarian actions. On 1 January, demonstrators picketed the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, tearing up portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and burning the Russian flag. Some demonstrators were detained by police, and PPCD representatives reported that security officials in cars were keeping their party headquarters under constant surveillance.

On 23 January, Communist President Vladimir Voronin asked Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc and SIS Director Ion Ursu to "take all measures for suppression of the manifestations of protest of PPCD, " AP Flux reported, citing only "informed sources." He asked the Justice Minister to suspend the party if necessary.

Undaunted, the PPCD applied for a rally permit a month in advance, but were denied official permission to demonstrate on 25 January. Nevertheless, 500 PPCD supporters gathered that day to make known their grievances. Authorities responded by sending police with dogs to disperse the meeting. About 10 demonstrators were detained on 25 January. At a press conference on 26 January, an Interior Ministry official said that in the future, police would use "the entire arsenal" to deal with unauthorized demonstrators. Activists believed this was a hint that tear gas may be used, although it was not stated explicitly.

On 27 January, the PPCD's Iuri Rosca appealed to Serafim Urechean, mayor of Chisinau, to lift the right of his Communist deputy, Ala Mironic, to authorize or prohibit public meetings, BASA reported 27 January. Rosca said in his open letter that Urechean had nominated Communists as his deputies. "Not by chance, you found that the right to authorize public meetings -- or better to say 'to ban such meetings' -- should rest with the Communist Ala Mironic," wrote Rosca in the letter. He complained that Mironic had banned dozens of peaceful protest actions and speculated that the mayor may be under political pressure from the Communists, or perhaps was himself hostile to the PPCD and had delegated the authority to the Communists.

Deputy Mayor Mironic told journalists that she had denied the PPCD a permit because she said the organizers would use it to "incite feelings of aggression, ethnic hatred, and public violence," BASA reported 27 January. The mayor then convened police officials who said there was no evidence that the PPCD would incite violence or xenophobia. "Mrs. Mironic was guided by emotions rather than the legislation in effect," he told reporters last week. He said he recommended she reverse the order and was awaiting her decision. PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov described Mironic's order as "an illegal, personal, and political action." He asked the Court of Appeals to annul her order. Under the Law on Meetings, city hall must review applications within five days prior to a rally. Rosca said authorities had been notified that his party planned to protest Russia's military presence and the controversial federalization plan and complain about "the economic and social disaster in Moldovan society as a result of Communist governance," BASA reported. These statements may have angered Mironic.

Stefan Secareanu, a PPCD representative, told "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" on 27 January that his party vowed to continue their protests every Sunday at noon. They are hoping for support from the West. "Russia has not fulfilled its Istanbul promises," he said, commenting on one of the party's main issues, the withdrawal of Russian troops. He did not believe there was hope that Russia would soon withdraw troops, but he did feel that if there was increased pressure from the West they may get some concessions despite Russia's manifest wish to stay within its sphere of influence.

Asked why opposition movements in Georgia or Ukraine seemed to be gaining success or at least compromises on certain issues, as Moldova has fallen by the wayside on the road to democracy, Secareanu commented that the opposition was still weakened and split in Moldova. "The West has still not been able to unite us," he noted. Although he does not expect Western governments to micromanage opposition-party politics, he does believe that institutions such as PACE have been helpful in assisting the opposition to negotiate with the government and to resolve their own differences.

Victoria Cusnir is leader of the PPCD's youth section. She told "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" that her party's leaders are already young themselves, and the youth organization has 5,000 members, with representatives throughout Moldova. Cusnir herself is still a medical student, and says that sometimes students are pressured, especially if the deans are Communists who disapprove of their protest, and they reprimand the students or do not permit them to take exams. School authorities can rightly point out that last year, when Chisinau was convulsed with large demonstrations where protesters sometimes camped out overnight, students missed their classes. "You are involved in politics, but you should be studying," professors tell dissident students. Cusnir said many PPCD members were expelled from their faculties for taking part in the prolonged demonstrations.

Today, it is not only the freezing, snowy weather that is keeping the number of demonstrators small on Chisinau's streets. Students fear going to rallies now because they have begun to suffer retaliation. Another factor reducing the numbers of protesters is snow on the roads of provincial towns, but authorities have also warned drivers that they should not take busloads of people to demonstrations in the capital.

PPCD leaders have traveled to Brussels to take part in the Congress of European People's Parties. They are not official members, as Moldova has not yet applied for official membership in the EU. But as observers, they can make contacts with like-minded people and seek support for their issues outside of Moldova.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Voronin has told the European Commission that this year, he hopes for "structural transformation in politics...connection to European policies and legislative harmonization with the European standards," BASA reported 28 January. The European Commission has released an EU Action Plan for Moldova, with three rounds of negotiations on integration to be completed by 1 March. Human-rights issues are sure to be on the agenda.

RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKS
INTERNATIONAL Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, speaks to an RFE/RL audience in Washington, D.C. on the debate about "clash of civilizations" versus "dialogue of civilizations." Summary transcript and audio file (English). http://www.regionalanalysis.org/briefings/latest/en/2004/02/153DA8DD-BE5E-4F4D-A367-D3F21D87512F.ASP

The website of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats in the European Parliament (in English and nine other European languages). http://www.epp-ed.org/home/en/default.asp

MOLDOVA The website of the Party Popular Christian Democratic (PPCD) (in Moldovan). http://ppcd.dnt.md/

English-language webpage created with the assistance of ADEPT (the Association for Participatory Democracy) in Moldova and the U.S.-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems. http://www.parties.e-democracy.md/en/parties/ppcd/

Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, a member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (Moldovan and English). http://www.humanrights.md

RUSSIA An NGO portal page on Russian human-rights organizations that gives legal advice to draftees, Russian newspaper clippings, and articles about how to interpret the law on alternative service and how to reform it (in Russian with some English). http://www.hro.org/actions/army/2004/01/24.php

Antimilitarist Radical Association is affiliated with the Transnational Radical Party in Europe. The group regularly campaigns against the draft with pickets in front of Defense Ministry buildings and currently has a post-card campaign to stop the war in Chechnya (in Russian only). http://www.ara.ru/

Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, a movement campaigning for military reform, an end to forced conscription, and more humane conditions in the army. The website has legal advice, local contact information, and position papers on military reform and the draft (in Russian and some English). http://www.ucsmr.ru/

Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg. The site contains downloadable brochures in Russian to help conscripts with legal advice and background materials (in Russian with some English). http://www.openweb.ru/smo/smo.htm

UKRAINE "Ukraine Parliament Votes Down Pro-Kuchma Proposal," by Jeremy Bransten. In an extraordinary session, Ukrainian parliamentarians voted to eliminate a controversial proposal, advanced by supporters of President Leonid Kuchma, to have the country's president chosen by legislators starting in 2006. http://www.rferl.org/features/features_article.aspx?id=E8DC3157-565C-4FE1-8223-A7A00CE50B89&m=2&y=2004

XS
SM
MD
LG