'I need to meditate alone, but it is impossible in the army'

What alternative ways to 'pay the debt to the Motherland' are, and where Tatarstan conscripts can do it

May 15 is International Day of Conscientious Objectors. In Russia, this date can be considered the day of alternative civilian service. How it is possible to legally pay the debt to the Motherland, without wearing kirz boots, where it can be done by Tatarstan conscripts. Spoiler: staunch pacifists are welcomed in the positions of barmaids, sailors, theatre stagehands, and even... reindeer herders.

Pacifists, or believers, or representatives of small ethnicities

Alternative civilian service is a special type of labour activity in the interests of society and the state, carried out by citizens in exchange for conscription. An alternative military serviceman, unlike a soldier, has the right to get education at this time — part-time or evening education.

The Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Tatarstan, Sariya Saburskaya, explains to Realnoe Vremya that in Russia, every citizen who has beliefs incompatible with military service has the right not to serve in the army — for example, if he condemns the war or any other violent actions or he is prohibited by religion. Alternative service can be chosen by a conscript who belongs to small-numbered peoples (for example, Khanty, Nenets, Koryaks, etc.). According to the law, when choosing a place of alternative civil service (AGS), a person's education, specialty, work experience, medical contraindications and marital status are taken into account.

The ombudsman says that issues related to military service are always under special control:

“We try to solve such issues without delay, as a matter of priority. Separately, we can single out appeals concerning the replacement of military service by alternative military service — for the current year, we received five such requests (in 2020 — only two requests for alternative service, in 2019 — six).”

At the same time, as specified in the press service of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Tatarstan, among such appeals there was not a single complaint about the denial of the right to undergo alternative service. Basically, alternative servicemen ask for clarification of their rights and the procedure for applying to the military enlistment office. Applications received by the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Tatarstan with a cover letter are sent to the military commissioner.

As our interlocutor noted, the term of such service in the Russian Federation may be different:

  • 21 months — for citizens undergoing AGS in organisations under the jurisdiction of federal executive authorities, as well as executive authorities of the subjects of the Russian Federation;
  • 18 months — for citizens undergoing AGS in organisations of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other troops, military formations and bodies as civilian personnel.

The application to replace the traditional army service with an alternative one is submitted at least six months before the start of the draft. If a young man is expected to receive a summons in the spring, the date of submitting the application should be no later than October 1, if in the autumn — no later than April 1.

In the application, you need to state the reasons why you can not go to the army, explains Saburskaya. Be sure to attach to it a characteristic from work or school, confirming your arguments.

The documents are considered within one month from the date of their receipt. Then, on the basis of the arguments given in the application and the conclusion of the doctors, the draft commission decides on alternative serive.

How many alternative servicemen are there in Tatarstan?

According to the Military Commissariat of Tatarstan, in the spring of 2021, more than 30 people will be sent to alternative civil service. For comparison, in the spring of 2018, there were fewer alternative servicemen in the republic — 18 people.

Military Commissar of the Republic of Tatarstan Sergey Pogodin assures that in Tatarstan there are no obstacles to young people who want to perform alternative civil service. After all, these are mostly heavy and low-prestige types of work, for which it is difficult to find staff, including because of low salary.

In the list of professions that can be employed by citizens undergoing alternative civil service, there is a canteen worker, fur breeder, sailor, hairdresser, and even a nanny or a reindeer herder (!).

Among the positions of employees — a midwife, doctor, athlete-instructor, teacher, legal adviser, artist of an orchestra and even a puppet theatre.

Government organisations that have been “idle” for years apply to the ministry of labour of the Russian Federation. It accumulates them in a separate list, determines quotas and distributes candidates. Most applications are submitted by the Russian Post, and there are many social institutions on the list. Last year, as Realnoe Vremya wrote, the Kamal Tatar State Academic Theatre got into the order of the ministry of labour of the Russian Federation for the first time. Here, as we were informed in the theatre, there is one alternative serviceman — as a stage machinist. This year in the Tatarstan list — there are many institutions of social service of the population.

We don't kill animals, and we can't kill people

The head of the Regional human rights public organisation of parents of conscripts of Tatarstan “For Sons”, German Aletkin, confirmed that about 30 Tatarstan citizens are sent to alternative service in each draft. In the country, the number of young people sent to the AGS has stabilised at the level of 300-400 people per draft.

But the information about the percentage of those who are denied the opportunity to perform alternative service does not appear anywhere:

“Someone sues, someone just agrees to military service, someone is chatted up, fooled around. There are people who persistently claim that the contract service is an alternative service," the human rights activist says. “Many people in our country believe that we have mandatory military service, that everyone must serve. Although this is not the case, we have had a voluntary draft for already a long time. A person can choose whether to perform the military or alternative service. Or he can just go abroad. Or take advantage of the delay. And so on — there are many options.”

According to our interlocutor, it is not only religious beliefs that encourage conscripts to choose alternative service. Although Baptists and representatives of other religious movements often seek help in defending their rights.

“I am mostly approached by people who often can not clearly formulate their beliefs. Together, we develop a strategy. We can say that they are just pacifists. Our Constitution does not restrict this in any way. If a person can articulate their beliefs coherently, that's enough. From the point of view of the law, a citizen is not obliged to convince the draft board. Any beliefs of a person that contradict the service in the army can be used as a motive for alternative service," he says.

Aletkin recalls a case when he was approached by a conscript practicing meditation:

“A man came and said that he needed to meditate alone. But in the army, it is impossible to do. I helped him write up a statement — I really don't know how the story ended. There are vegetarians who claim that they do not kill animals — so they can not kill people.

“An alternative serviceman can't be fired, he can demand his rights until the last”

Aletkin lists: in Tatarstan, alternative servicemen, as a rule, can serve in various social institutions — boarding schools, psychiatric clinics, but mostly they perform alternative service at Tatarstan Post.

Last year, the Kamal Theatre appeared on the list for the first time, but now it has disappeared from it again. According to the interlocutor, often in the military enlistment office, the conscript is frightened by alternative service in Chechnya or work as an orderly in a psychiatric clinic. But it goes no further than intimidation, and all this has nothing to do with reality. Because the qualifications of a conscript are usually not enough to work with the sick — and even to take out bed-pans in nursing homes. After all, this is a well-paid position, and residents of small settlements usually compete for it. As a result, alternative servicemen usually end up in such social institutions, but they are engaged in cleaning the territory there or serve as handymen. But in Moscow, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the guys even worked in the red zones of hospitals, according to our interlocutor.

“Unlike the army, where cooks can be sent to serve as a driver, in an alternative service, if a person worked at the post office before distribution and he has the line “postman” in his work record, then he can only be sent to the post office," says the interlocutor. “And family circumstances are clarified. Unlike the military, when there is a pregnant wife, they can be sent to serve in Astrakhan, here, in the presence of difficult family circumstances, they are usually left at the place of residence or somewhere nearby.”

By Kristina Ivanova