Dedovshchina (Russian: дедовщи́на; IPA: [dʲɪdɐˈfɕːinə]; lit. reign of grandfathers) is the informal practice of initiation (see:hazing) of new junior conscripts, formerly to the Soviet Armed Forces and today to the Russian armed forces, Internal Troops, and (to a much lesser extent) FSB Border Guards, as well as the military forces of certain former Soviet Republics. It consists of brutalization by more senior conscripts serving their last year of compulsory military service as well as NCOs and officers.
Dedovshchina encompasses a variety of subordinating or humiliating activities undertaken by the junior ranks: from doing the chores of the senior ranks to violent and sometimes lethal physical and psychological abuse, not unlike an extremely vicious form of bullying or even torture. It is often cited as a major source of poor morale in the ranks.
Often with the justification of maintaining authority, physical violence or psychological abuse can be used to make the “youth” do certain fatiguing duties. In many situations, hazing is in fact not the goal. Conscripts with seniority exploit their juniors to provide themselves with a more comfortable existence, and the violent aspects arise when juniors refuse to "follow traditions". There have been occasions where soldiers have been seriously injured, or, in extraordinary situations, killed.
The term is derived from "ded" (Russian: дед, meaning grandfather), which is the Russian Army army slang equivalent of gramps, meaning soldiers at their third (or fourth, which is also known as "dembel" (Russian: дембель) year of compulsory service, stemming from a vulgarization of the word "demobilization" (Russian: демобилизация demobilizatsiya) - this word is erroneously used by soldiers to describe the act of resigning from the army; soldiers also refer to this "dembel" or "DMB" (Russian: ДМБ)) half-year of conscription, with the suffix -shchina which denotes a type of order, rule, or regime (compare Yezhovshchina, Zhdanovshchina). Thus it can literally be translated as "rule of the grandfathers." This is essentially a folk system of seniority based on stage of service, mostly not backed by code or law, which only grants seniority to conscripts promoted to various Sergeant and Efreitor ranks.
The origin of this problem is often attributed to the change in conscription term brought about by the law of October 12, 1967, causing two different groups of conscripts to be simultaneously present in the army: those who were drafted for 3-year service and those only for 2-year service. During the same year, a decision was reached to draft conscripts with a criminal history into the ranks, due to a demographic crisis following World War II. While oppression by older conscripts has probably always taken place in the army, after that date, with the introduction of the four-class system (created by the bi-annual call-ups)[clarification needed] it became systematic and developed its own rules and ranks.
Many young men are killed or commit suicide every year because of dedovshchina. The New York Times reported that in 2006 at least 292 Russian soldiers were killed by dedovshchina (although the Russian military only admits that 16 soldiers were directly murdered by acts of dedovshchina and claims that the rest committed suicide). The Times states: "On Aug. 4, it was announced by the chief military prosecutor that there had been 3,500 reports of abuse already this year (2006), compared with 2,798 in 2005". The BBC meanwhile reports that in 2007, 341 soldiers committed suicide, a 15% reduction on the previous year.
Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia works to protect the rights of young soldiers.
In 2012, a draftee from Chelyabinsk region, Ruslan Aiderkhanov, was raped and tortured to death by his seniors. The one witness who was willing to testify against the alleged perpetrators, Danil Chalkin, was later found shot dead in his military base. A contract soldier, Alikbek Musabekov, was later arrested in this incident.
Overall, the state has done little to curtail dedovshchina. In 2003, on the specific issues of denial of food and poor nutrition, Deputy Minister of Defense V. Isakov flatly denied the existence of such problems.
In 2011 the Russian parliament reduced the conscript service time from two years to one; dedovschina primarily occurs when second year conscripts abuse first year conscripts, this measure is partially intended to curtail the practice.
Dedovshchina in popular culture
Several Soviet and Russian films portrayed the dedovshchina despite the military's abstention from helping the production. Following is the selected filmography:
- Do It Once! - Делай — раз! - 1990
- The Guard - Караул - 1990
- Afghan Breakdown - Афганский излом - 1990
- 100 Days Before the Command - Сто дней до приказа - 1990
- Air Hunger - Кислородный голод - 1992
- The Green Elephant - Зеленый слоник - 1999
- Demobbed - ДМБ - 2000
- The 9th Company - 9-я рота - 2005
- The Search (2014 film) - 2014
- Inside the Soviet Army
- The 9th Company
- Andrey Sychyov
- Bullying in the military
- Those who date the present dedovschina system to 1967 include Odom, William E. (1998). The Collapse of the Soviet Military. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07469-7.
- The Consequences of Dedovshchina, Human Rights Watch report, 2004
- Ismailov, Vjacheslav (2006-07-10). "Terrible dedovshchina in General Staff". Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- "Hazing Trial Bares a Dark Side of Russia's Military". The New York Times. 2006-08-13.
- "Russia army suicides cause alarm". BBC News Online. 29 May 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- 21 Sep 2011 (2011-09-21). "Russian family alleges 'suicide' conscript tortured to death". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
- Младший сержант застрелился, не вынеся издевательств рядового. Novye Izvestia (in Russian). 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
- "To Serve without Health?". Hrw.org. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
- (Russian) Информация о происшествиях и преступлениях в Вооруженных Силах РФ, mil.ru
- Feifer, Gregory. The great gamble: the Soviet war in Afghanistan. New York: Harper, 2009. Print.
- "Lawmakers pass bill to reinstate isolation cells in Russian army". RIA Novosti (Moscow). 2006-11-15.
- Conscript's Prostitution Claims Shed Light On Hazing
- Military Conscripts Caught In Deadly 'Cycle Of Violence'
- Thousands Dodge Military Service as Draft Begins
- Army Cracks Down On Military Service Loophole
- Article in the Washington Post by Peter Finn (2006-01-30): "Violent Bullying of Russian Conscripts Exposed".
- Russian Officer Kicks Soldier To Death
- Dmitry Puchkov about dedovschina: Oper.ru Oper.ru (Russian)
- Book by Yury Polyakov (Ю́рий Миха́йлович Поляко́в): Сто дней до приказа ("One Hundred Days Till the Release Order", written in 1980, but was only able to be published in 1987). One of the first books to discuss this taboo subject, only publishable after Perestroika. A film based on the book and bearing the same title also came out in 1990. (In Russian)
- Oleg Divov, 2007, "Oruzhiye vozmezdiya" (Оружие возмездия, Weapon of vengeance)
- Françoise Daucé, Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski: Dedovshchina in the Post-Soviet Military: Hazing of Russian Army Conscripts in a Comparative Perspective. (Foreword by Dale Herspring) Soviet & Post-Soviet Politics & Society 28, Ibidem: Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-89821-616-0.
- Golts, Alexander. "The Social and Political Condition of the Russian Military." In The Russian Military: Power and Policy, edited by Steven E. Miller and Dmitri Trenin, 73-94. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004. ISBN 0-262-63305-1.
- Sakwa, Richard. Russian Politics and Society, 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2008. ISBN 0-415-41527-6.
- Special Issue on Dedovshchina The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet States. 1/2004.