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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
History blamed for Russia's bully culture
By Steven Eke
BBC regional analyst

The Human Rights Watch report on violence and brutality in the Russian armed forces reveals just one element in their catastrophic decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian sociologists say the brutality in the army may also reflect certain Russian historical traditions and cultural factors, especially the widespread acceptance of the notion that order in Russia can be maintained only by brute force.

Russian recruit
Many families try to keep their sons out of military service
There are millions of Russian men with first-hand experience of the brutality of their country's army. In private conversations, many will admit they saw severe, physical and sometimes sexual abuse used as a routine means of discipline.

It is a theme that provokes passionate debate. The causes may include the appalling level of training, and the absence of qualified non-commissioned officers.

But the result is that families go to extraordinary lengths to help their sons avoid military service.

As a consequence of this, the army is full of what one Russian publication recently described as "the stupid, the sick and the criminal".

Some Russian researchers suggest historical factors in trying to explain why the state apparently tolerates this.

New stance

They point to the Russian army's comparatively late abolition - in the early 20th century - of corporal punishment. Sometimes it was so severe that its outcome was fatal.

In addition, researchers highlight the legacy of Stalinism. Not only did it kill millions, but it also cemented, at a political level, the subservience of the ruled to their rulers.

There are Russian sociologists who say this historical legacy may underpin the attitudes of many modern Russians. In particular, the widespread acceptance that they need to be governed by a strong hand, with the implicit threat of force, to stay in order.

Over recent months, the Russian authorities have demonstrated a new intolerance for those trying to independently tackle bullying in the army.

Yet, according to human rights groups, they have made little - if any - serious effort to deal with the problem themselves.

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