Book review

Dedovshchina in the Post-Soviet Military: Hazing of Russian Army Conscripts in a Comparative Perspective

Françoise Dauce and Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski (ed.), ibidem, Stuttgart 2006

This book is not written from a pacifist perspective -- hardly so, and many authors write from a clearly pro-military perspective. But this is not a weakness, as we as readers can easily add this perspective. What the book offers is some insight into the phenomenon of dedovshchina -- the hazing of Russian conscripts to a degree unknown in Western societies.

The authors put dedovshchina in the context of the Russian post-Soviet society -- a context characterised by a radical change of rules within society -- from Soviet style socialism to wild capitalism -- and increased social deprivation. But in doing so, it is not suggested that dedovshchina did not exist in Soviet times -- in fact, the Soldiers Mothers' Committees first exposed dedovshchina under Gorbachev.

In their introduction, the editors write: "Dedovshchina is at the crossroads of transformation which have taken place in Russia since the disappearance of the USSR. Among others, it is the consequence of historical legacy (Soviet and even tsarist), cultural tensions (inter-ethnic conflicts in the USSR), political dysfunctions (lack of democracy) and economic problems (lack of money in the army), all of which combined explain the longevity of this negative phenomenon" (page 18).

Many Russian groups advocate the professionalisation of the Russian military as a solution to the problem of dedovshchina, which they see as related to conscription. However, the authors of the book give plenty of reasons to be more cautious about such an (easy) approach. In his contribution, Joris van Bladel concludes: "If we speak about the professional armed forces we have to be careful what we exactly mean. If we mean that it is a way of recruiting soldiers, without qualitative changes in the armed forces, with its closedness as the most important feature, dedovshchina will not disappear. The same malfunctions and abuses will continue in the then new Russian professional armed forces" (page 298f). All well, and here we can add our pacifist perspective of demilitarisation of society as an answer to dedovshchina.