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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Russian army bullying 'horrific'
Russian soldiers
Some soldiers are said to face severe bullying during conscription
International group Human Rights Watch has published a detailed study of what it calls "horrific violence" against new conscripts in the Russian army.

The report says organised bullying has not only continued since Soviet times, but has become harsher.

Human Rights Watch says that although the abuse has been known about for several years, Russia's leadership has done nothing to address the problem.

The report claims hundreds are killed or commit suicide as a result.

Tens of thousands of soldiers run away, while thousands more are left physically and or mentally scarred, the organisation says in its reports entitled The Wrongs of Passage.

The ritual of organised bullying is known as "dedovshchina" - a self-perpetuating system, with two draft periods a year where conscripts enlist for two years.

That means that at any time there are four distinct groups of conscripts in any barracks.

Dedovshchina especially concerns the senior soldiers - in their last six months - and the newest recruits.

The one way to avoid physical abuse is complete submission
Conscript Alexander D

The seniors (known as "dedy") are in many cases given free rein to treat the juniors as little more than slaves, says BBC Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel.

If the juniors do not do as they are told, the seniors often use violence to enforce their rule.

One conscript, Alexander D, told Human Rights Watch that "the one way to avoid physical abuse was complete submission - turning into a 'lackey' who does whatever he is asked no matter how humiliating or senseless".

He says he was repeatedly beaten for refusing to sew collars on senior soldiers' jackets. Another time Alexander D's belongings were taken away and he was sent out, along with others, to beg for money to buy vodka.

First-year conscripts could also be forced to act out an old army joke called "dried crocodile", he says.

The conscripts had to put their hands and feet on the posts at the head and feet of the bed and remain in push-up position for long periods of time.

"They [the dedy] lie down on the bed [beneath you] and God forbid you fall. They beat you up and then start from scratch. Sometimes they even burn your leg from down there... when they were drunk they could make you hang all night."


The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most conscripts are ill-educated and frequently come from backgrounds with severe social problems, the report says.

Our analyst adds that many junior officers either do not care about the welfare of their soldiers, or passively encourage the bullying as it gives a certain "discipline" to the barrack block.

Human Rights Watch concludes that the very least that could be done would be the establishment of an ombudsman to protect the rights of Russian servicemen.

It says such an ombudsman should have the right of access to military bases at any time, to speak in private to any serviceman, and access to documents and correspondence from soldiers who are often too terrified to speak of their ordeal.

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