Irina Kizilova: Alternative Service Youth Are Helping You

posted 20 Mar 2017, 04:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Mar 2017, 04:06 ]
14 March 2017


By Irina Kizilova, member of the board of the Perm region Office of the Memorial International Society and director of the human rights advice office 

Newspapers and letters come to your mailbox, and if you’re a pensioner, once a month the mail carrier brings your pension to your home. It may be that this responsibility has for a while been carried out not by the lady you’re used to but by a young man.

It may be you’re even surprised that this person has suddenly taken up a job like this, where, as you have heard from your mail carrier friend, they pay a little more than eight thousand roubles a month. After all, he could find something better, with a future!

Yes, of course, he could, if this youth were the usual civilian worker and not doing alternative service, that is, someone who, when he is drafted, instead of doing military service performs alternative civilian service (ACS).

At this moment, a civilian of draft age (18-27) chooses not where to work or what as but how to serve: carrying or not carrying a weapon. And this young man has chosen the latter, inasmuch as military service contradicts his convictions or beliefs.

It may be that he is keen on the pacifist ideas of the great Russian classic Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy or is steadfastly following peace-loving Christian precepts. How can he pick up a weapon and learn to kill?

No, he’s prepared to take the most unprestigious job (often alternative service workers, even those with a higher education, are sent to work as custodians or orderlies in hospitals or homes for the aged or disabled), just so he avoids the ordeal of carrying out the orders of military commanders. And it’s all right for them that ASC lasts not one year, like military service, but twenty-one months. After all, they will spend this period of time not in soldiers’ barracks but under their own roof or in the dorm their employer is required to provide.

Since 2002, Russian legislation has given citizens the right to substitute alternative civilian service for military service.

Perm Memorial put quite a lot of effort into persuading the Russian State Duma to pass the federal law “On Alternative Civilian Service.” In order to nudge Duma deputies toward this decision, our organization in the years 1998-2001 was one of the first in the country to conduct experiments on working out a Russian model for ACS. The draft federal law was written on the basis of those experiments.

This law gives this right - although the local officials in epaulets who work on military commissariats and members of draft boards far from always respect it, setting up obstacles to ACS for young men. If the boys whose rights are being violated go to Perm Memorial’s human rights advice office, which has been in operation since 1997, then here they will definitely get help. They will be told how to correctly write an application for ACS, how to take it to the military commissariat in order to meet the legally mandated deadline, and what to do if the draft board refuses to satisfy a request to substitute alternative for military service.

If required, associates of the advice office will help write a legal action to the court disputing the draft board’s incorrect decision and will themselves participate in the court’s civil hearing as the ACS applicant’s representative. And all this is totally free, since Memorial is a philanthropic organization.

And here’s what’s important: the activities of Perm Memorial connected with the defence of the rights of draft-age young men wholly corresponds to its charter objectives. Yes, our organization’s Charter says that one of the areas of its work is facilitating the development of citizens’ civic and legal self-awareness and the education of the younger generation in the spirit of a rule-of-law state. Perm Memorial not only defends the rights of draft-age youth but also provides legal education; we facilitate the development of their civic and legal self-awareness.

The idea of promoting alternative civilian service in Russia came to Perm Memorial’s directors when, in 1995, during the creation of the Memorial Museum of the History of Political Repressions “Perm-36,” we organized the first summer volunteer camp on its basis.

Among the volunteers was a young man from Germany, Tim Bose, who told us how in their country each young person, after graduating from high school, can choose how to serve: carrying a weapon or Zivildienst—civilian service. A year later, Tim came to Perm Memorial to perform his Zivildienst. He took care of lonely old women and men - victims of political repressions — in their homes and also established tender, almost familial relationships with them so that even many years later the old Perm women and men remembered with enormous warmth this young German who spoke Russian so poorly.

Looking at Tim, Perm volunteers started caring for lonely old women and men. This is how Memorial’s volunteer social service, which functions to this day, was born. Young people from this service look after lonely elderly people — victims of political repressions — and wash their apartments windows during the spring and autumn “Clean Windows” actions.

It was members of Memorial’s volunteer social service in Perm who were the first applicants for ACS. Participation in Memorial’s volunteer social service helps them prepare for the far from simple alternative civilian service.

In 2016, Perm Memorial, in connection with the “Right to an Alternative” project, which is supported by a “presidential” grant, provided free consultation for dozens of young draft-age men from all over Perm region, holding many informational and educational meetings with students at various educational institutions, organizing an interregional forum in Perm for people who were doing or applying for ACS, and publishing a booklet and brochure for teachers on how to inform pupils about their right to choose their way to serve society — carrying a weapon or in alternative civilian service.

Work on the “Right to an Alternative” project continues this year as well, moreover, not only in Perm region but also in towns in Sverdlovsk and Kirov provinces, the Republic of Mari El, Tatarstan, and Chuvashia.

Coordinators for our project are working there, creating conditions for free consultations for draft-age young men. This means that there will be more young men working in hospitals, homes for the aged and disabled, the post office, and elsewhere where there is an acute shortage of working hands felt today.

Translated by Marian Schwartz