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(en) Russia: Deserter day actions around Russia

Date Tue, 7 Mar 2006 12:08:15 +0100 (CET)

In second half of January 2006, private Sychev became symbol of brutal
realities of Russian conscription. "Dyedovschina" - bullying and torture
of new arrivals by "Dyadi" (gaffers), those soon to finish their duty,
has been part Russian lexicon for a long time but now this word became
known internationally.
For a few weeks, whole country followed faith of Andrei Sychev, serving in
Chelyabinsk tank school, who had developed gangrene to his legs and dick
after being tied and gang raped for 3 hours by a drunken mob in new years
eve, after which he was denied medical aid until 4th of January.
Information on the case leaked only 25th of January, at which point Sychev
had already had his legs and dick amputated - even now, 2 months later he
is still in a serious condition.

According to polls conducted by independent Levada center, willingness to
serve among youth of conscript age dropped from more than 50% to less than
40% after turn of the year. Moscow and Yekaterinburg also saw mass
protests against bullying in the army, 28th of January hundreds of people
protested outside ministry of defense in an illegal action with slogans
"Dismiss Ivanov!" (ministry of defense) and "Ivanov is gangrene of the
army!". Police was first peaceful, but then began to grab placates and to
disperse crowd, people moved to shouting slogans against Putin. Police
grabbed one of the organizers, but people managed to storm arrest bus and
to free her. Basically action was organized through Live Journal and radio
Echo Moscow and no symbols of political organizations were around, but key
organizer is aligned with Garri Gasparov's liberal movement.

2 PM the same day in Yekaterinburg, which was home town of Andrey Sychev
another illegal meeting gathered, police moved to dispersed it - a short
brawl followed and some people were arrested.

It seems all publicity had hardly any effect to brutal workings of the
military machinery, at least in a short run. Just during one single day,
2nd of February, news agencies reported of brutal beating of private
Sergey Berezin in Norilsk, of a soldier hospitalized in Bashkiria in a
critical condition after officers forced soldiers to "ultimate fighting",
of forcing conscript Dmitri Smirnih to subscribe a professional contract
by means of torture in Kantemirovsk, of commanders of a division in
Yaroslavl giving private Maksim Gugaev to a slavery to a general, who
poured over him sulphuric acid after "too little effort" in building site
of his cottage, and six other cases of "dyedovschina"...

So this was political context in which anarchists prepared for second
deserter day festivities 23rd of February. In Soviet times, this was
celebrated as birthday of the Red army - according to official propaganda,
23rd of February 1918 Red army gained its first victory against Imperial
Germany. 26 years later, these celebrations were used as a pretext to
gather all Chechenyans and Ingushetians to their settlements, from which
they were railroaded to steppes of Central Asia - more than one fourth of
the nations perished during the trip and first months of freezing winter
in bare steppes. 1995 "day of red army" was renamed "day of defender of
the fatherland", 2004 it was first time and official holiday, and scale of
official celebrations just grows every year - thus Russia may be only
country celebrating in a first day of an ethnic cleansing of part of its

In Nizhni Novgorod, libertarian communists had an early start to actions,
several military call-up centers were covered with graffiti "Dismiss
Ivanov! Who will pay for Sychev?", "If you want to walk, do not serve!",
"Soldiers, stock zinc!" and others.

Due to time difference, first daytime actions were to take place in
Irkutsk of Siberia. anarchists staged up a "war" in the central street of
the city with homemade "weapons", audience involved among other 4
veterans of recent wars without legs. Passers by were laughing,
considering "warriors" as fools - anarchists did not minded, wishing that
such an opinion on "real" army would prevail soon as well. Eventually,
weapons of war were trashed, just as all arms defending only rich and
powerful will be eventually scrapped.

In Tyumen of Siberia, action with theme "Do not serve monsters" was
organized by local individual members of Autonomous Action and "555 free
speech club". Anti-authoritarians had a permission to have a meeting in
front of regional call-up center, local authorities decided to close
center - it doors, it was written that "due to events call up center will
not admit". Some 50 persons joined the action, including uninvited
Stalinist youth. People scanned "Army is slavery" and "Freedom, equality
and anarcho-communism". People passing by in buses could read banner
"Soldier, come back home - arms to people!". There were plenty of cops,
but they behaved themselves peacefully. In the end there was Food Not
Bombs action, homeless people and participators of the action were fed -
cops refused offer.

In Moscow, anarchists went to organize second "Deserter day festival".
This was to be more low key than last year, last year all events were
announced well before and authorities managed to close down some of them.
This year places of events were not announced before, and eventually
authorities managed to interfere only with the demonstration.

First event of the festival was a press conference with theme "I do not
want to serve, I want to live!", in Independent Press Center a day prior
to "Deserter day", speakers included two conscientious objectors from
Autonomous Action (Dmitri Gorodov and Dmitri Boltov) and Elena Belousova,
mother of Roman Belousov, who is another anti-authoritarian conscientious
objector from Moscow.

At noon of 23rd of February, illegal "March of deserters" started from
Nikitski gates. Around 70 people joined demonstration, some of them had
escaped their units in cardboard tanks. Demonstration was lead by a big
white dove of peace. March was accompanied with music from various drums
and whistleblowers, banners carried slogans "Army is meat grinder of human
destinies", "If you do not want to serve, do not serve" and "Army =
slavery" . Marchers wore green fool's caps.

Deserters of the future were scanning "Our fatherland is all humanity!",
"I do not want to serve, I really want to live!", "No to war in Iraq and
Chechnya!", "Down with the police state!" and "Rise the black flag higher,
state is the main enemy!". Demand was to reform army until its complete
disintegration, to be replaced with a peoples' militia.

March passed close the military headquarters, from which it turned to
Vozdvizhenka street towards Kremlin. When it reached to State library, a
bus of OMON blocked the road, and few OMON in a riot gear began to grab
demonstrators together with regular cops who had also caught up with the
demonstration. This was just few hundred meters away from Troitskaya
tower, which is the main tourist entrance to Kremlin.

OMON attacked march, grounded peace dove, trashed tanks and arrested 11
people, brutalizing some of them. All arrested were released the same
evening with misdemeanor charges.

Some photos from the action:


Video footage:



Later the same day, a Food Not Bombs action against war in Chechnya,
against huge spending to military-industrial complex and against
militarization of the society passed without incidents. A movie screening
of anti-militaristic films was successfully organized in one of the Moscow

Next day, festival continued with a closed concert, from seven booked
bands only "Penicillin" and "No heads" from Moscow, "Crowd Control" from
St. Petersburg and "Brud*Krov" from Minsk could play until sound system
broke down.

Last event of the festival was a discussion on theme "Conscription and
Russian society" in Sunday, 26th of February, with opening by a speaker
from Coalition for Democratic Alternative Service, who gave an update on
current state of legislation and attempts of military-industrial complex
to hinder government promise to shorten service time to one year until

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