Being conscripted into the army is a part of every man’s life in Russia, regardless of how he may feel about it. Conscription is a long-standing thing. Nonetheless, far from everyone perceives it as useful or necessary. The societal opinion about military service is divided in two: there are those who present it as a “sacred duty” of every male citizen, while others don’t see neither benefits nor purpose in it.
Luckily, the Russian legislation allows supporters of any of these points of views not only to have their own opinion, but also to act according to their views and convictions. Article 59 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation recognises the right of each citizen to object to military service. In 2002, the federal law “On Alternative Civilian Service” was adapted, which concretised this right by providing a legal mechanism allowing people to object to military service in favour of a type of conscription which is more acceptable to many, namely the alternative civilian service.
However, unfortunately, the right to conscientious objection does not translate that easily into practice. Regardless of the legal framework, those unwilling to perform military service often face obstacles on the part of public authorities. The law “On Alternative Civilian Service” allows the enlistment commission to refuse to let army conscripts replace military service with alternative civilian service, a challenge faced by many young people not willing to take up arms. Either the conscript doesn’t endure and decides that serving in the army will be easier, or the enlistment commission finally agrees to replace military service with civilian service. Considering that the conscripts are mostly young and inexperienced boys, such disputes are not necessarily easy for them. Besides, there are many prejudices and stereotypes regarding the alternative civilian service. Poorly informed people usually imagine it as dirty, low-status work that a “normal” person simply would not want to do.
In fact, it’s the opposite: a substantial part of the vacancies for alternative civilian service resemble, for example, the case of Vasily Serenko, who was working at a post office. There are opportunities to serve in interesting places; Anton Mesomed is performing his civilian service in a theatre. Nonetheless, existing stereotypes create societal pressure on those objecting to military service. Therefore, unfortunately, exemption from military service is associated with many difficulties. Even so, no person who has firmly decided that the military is not for him will end up there.
Will the situation improve in the future? Hard to say. One the one hand, recruitment for fixed-term military service is declining. On the other hand, the decline is by no means significant, and a full abolition of mandatory military service is definitely not within sight in the coming years. Moreover, high-ranking persons often voice opinions that a mandatory military service is necessary and that an abolition is impractical. Still, maybe young people will breathe a sigh of relief if one day they’ll hear the exciting news about the removal of mandatory military service, but for now, conscientious objection remains a choice of last-ditchers.
Yuri Ledenyov, coordinator of the Conscentious Objectors’ Movement
In 2016, Yuri Ledenyov announced his refusal of military service. Seeking to realize this right, in 2017 he joined the Conscientious Objectors’ Movement. Since 2018, Yuri has been a member of the Coordination Council of the Movement. He consults the conscientious objectors and promotes the idea of the alternative civil service. Yuri is a high school physical education teacher and a student of the Kursk State University.