Every year in Russia and other former Soviet countries young men are summoned into the army and every man in one form or another was faced with the military institutions. Having this in mind, didn’t you notice a large void on this topic in the media? The institute of suppression, through which passed every man in the country is completely ignored and people are constantly arguing about LGBT, Ukrainian nationalists, liberals and other imaginary enemies. Let’s make justice — it’s time to start a conversation on this topic.

We shall go back in time — somewhere around high school since it is when the government suddenly starts to think about you. It turns out being born every boy signed some kind of an unwritten contract, the contents of which, in general, are the following: “Live to 18 years and then, be so kind, give a year of your life to the Homeland*.”, and at the bottom, it says in a tiny print “* exceptions are possible”.

In high school, the 23rd February ceases to be just a “defenderofthefatherlandday”, but turns into the “Defender of the Fatherland Day”. Around the same time, young guys are definitely going to visit a military camp outside the city, where they will watch the firing tanks and other weapons and will shoot a bit the famous AK-47 and, in general, will plunge into the military life for one day.

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A military commissariat

Then the medical examinations will start and, if memory serves, one will have to be stuck once or twice at the military commissariat (or voenkomat), passing a variety of doctors and military bureaucrats. In the last room where the commission sits, you have to walk in with some army chant like “Comrade commander, private X has arrived”, after that you should put your papers on the table. You will receive a blue piece of paper and are free on all four sides until reaching the adulthood.

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The commission

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The blue paper

The schoolboys will discuss their “fitness” and “unfitness” for some time, recalling at the same time various official “excuses” such as the flat feet, myopia and other, simultaneously claiming that they were either abolished or not abolished as an excuse. After the medical examination, there are usually some braggarts that were accepted (by health) to the airborne or other cool and tough troops. But, generally, after a couple of visits to the military commissariat, all this excitement is quickly forgotten.

Pupils graduate from school in Russia around 16–17 and almost everyone will go to university to use the official excuse not to serve in the army during the study. And if you think that young people go to higher education because of a true desire to learn, then I will have to disappoint you — most do not have the means to pay for a higher education, so many choose a third-rate university on the “cheap and close” (meaning close to the home) principle. Or rather: not “cheaper” but “free”. And it is free where the competition is low — in unprestigious (i. e. low-quality) universities and for unprestigious specialties.

After being accepted to the university, future defenders of the Fatherland quietly exist and study on their faculties and programs for several years. Of course, one should not forget that every year you need to renew your blue ticket at the voenkomat, confirming the fact that you are still enrolled but it is not difficult — just a waste of time.

However, all good things come to an end, and that exact time is approaching. The study at the university is at its middle of the program or even at the end of it, the president did not cancel the conscription during that time and no meteorite fell on the Earth incidentally destroying all the military commissariats and it turns out that you are “fit” and you have a year or two, maximum three, to come up with something and execute it.

I must say that it’s a fun time. All the young men periodically discuss the army, tease and scare each other, saying that “that guy will definitely serve with his inaction in mind”. Most, of course, do not want to serve and it feels like “something should be done”, but “some time later”.

At this stage, you can identify the three main types of recruits. The first type is early to realize the existing problem and is working on it. They are the first to get the desirable military ID (given when one gets an exception from conscription or when one has served in the army), and conscription is not their concern now. The second type becomes active only in the last year of his studies and successfully solves the problem during this year. The last type, the one that did not undertake any actions during the study, usually experiences jokes from the other two groups. Often for a good reason, given the fact that much could be done during the three to five years at the university.

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It is difficult to say which student will get in which group, since it depends on many factors: personality (responsible or irresponsible), plans for the future (a clear plan or a lack of it), family wealth, relationship with the family, position of the young man and his family towards the army, attitude towards corruption, family connections and so on.

It should also be said that some recruits are unfit for health reasons and the state takes only their time to visit the hospitals and the military commissariat. Some recruits are sent for a year to perform their duty to the Motherland where they will, as the government propaganda says, “become real men”.

I am, however, interested in the process of avoiding the army, after all, not even realizing it, a significant number of men receive their “original sin” — become part of the corruption in the country.

So, imagine that we are students in the middle or the end of the study program. We do not want to serve and almost certainly we have some “advanced” friend or acquaintance who knows someone who can help get an “excuse”. Or your parent can come to the military commissariat and talk to the chief. Or parents can call a friend from the military to get a “consultation”. It is amazing how easily approachable is this kind of corruption and how little is it discussed in the society.

One way or other, we find the right person and get the exact price of this procedure. As in Russia students go to the university right after school and do not all work in their last study year (and even if they work, money is often wasted), therefore this procedure is usually paid by the family. And by family I mean not only mom and dad but also grandparents, aunts, uncles — any relative will do.

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The cost depends on the voenkomat and the city. The closer is the military commissariat to the city center, the more expensive it usually is, which is logical — the richer the family, the closer to the center they live (although, of course, it’s not always the case). This is true for Moscow, but I think the same situation applies to other major cities.

Five years ago the price was around 150–200 thousand rubles (3–5 thousand euros at that time) in Moscow. Surely someone saw a cheaper and a more expensive price, I can’t argue with that. After all, no database on the average amount of bribe that will give you an “excuse” from the conscription is yet created.

After paying the amount at the “counter”, an active work of the medical personnel with the recruit starts. Actually, I must say, the whole procedure of getting an “exception” from the army is as enjoyable as it can be. Judge for yourself: since you and the nurse and the head of the military commissariat are all involved in corruption, therefore it is in the interests of nurses and the head to make everything right and “by the law”. And since you already paid your fee you are perceived as a customer. A special customer.

After talking to you and a colleague the nurse sends you to your local hospital to collect all your medical records, including the ones from your childhood. This is done to analyze them and find some predispositions towards certain illnesses. After selecting some kind of a terrible “ulcer”, “heart disease” or something equally horrible, you will go with your papers from the voenkomat to a different hospital, where you will be checked and returned back to the military commissariat with the required paper.

Roughly speaking, the voenkomat makes a hypothesis that “this recruit has this disease” and a third-party hospital specialized on specific diseases (stomach diseases, heart diseases and so on) approves this hypothesis saying: “yes, the tests were conducted, that person is indeed ill”.

In this hospital, you will be put in a special group and you will again pass a medical examination. Some procedures are not very pleasant (gastroscopy, for example), but it is a necessary sacrifice. You can also have a chat with the guys from your group: they are of different ages and are from different neighborhoods from all over Moscow. You can compare prices — who paid what.

The doctors, by the way, are kind and, to the possible extent, care about your health. If suddenly the results of the blood analysis reveal some deviations, you will be sent for additional tests and recommendations to go to your local hospital to analyze the results will be given. Since they are also in a share with the voenkomat, therefore your goal to get the exemption from the army is their goal as well — to do everything right and not get caught.

All procedures last a week or two and you go back to the military commissariat with the paper saying “yes, this guy has this terrible disease”. You are told there to come back in a couple of months to pick up the military ID and you’ll be free. That’s it — end of the paid procedure and you have no debts to the state.

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The military ID

After that, the former recruit is usually interested in the progress of his friends and acquaintances: how did they get their “excuse”, who has served and who has done nothing at this point.

According to my experience in Moscow, I can say that the ones that served are a minority. At the same time, according to my observations of the Belarusian province, I can say that the majority have served. Most likely there are several reasons for this. The first is the health of the city residents, which is inferior to the health of the children living in villages in a more favorable ecological environment where they are more involved in the physical work (helping parents in the backyard, on the farm, and so on). Families living in a city are definitely richer and have the opportunity to “buy out” their child, unlike the poor residents of villages and small towns. Also, I think the military commissariats themselves prefer non-city residents — those are more hardworking, less spoiled, less demanding and their head is less clogged with the urban “nonsense”.

From my urban experience, I can say that most of the ones that served were not the smartest guys in school. In addition to them, there are those whose families are affiliated with the government — say, a parent from the police or other government agencies.

I can also recall intelligent and wealthy young men that served in the army, as their parents promised to buy them a car or just insisted on the service. Apparently, parents believe that the army can really make “men” out of “boys”, or that the army can knock the “nonsense” out of the head, or just the family is of conservative views — no idea which situation applies, but there are such cases.

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Most of the ones that did not serve consider these who serve as, simply said, “losers”. This can be seen by the former soldiers who didn’t look tough before the military and don’t look any better after it. Also, this opinion is supported by the soldiers themselves, who often openly say that the year in the army is completely useless and the year was just wasted.

Of course, the unwillingness to serve and to give a year of your life shows a great level of individualization of the younger generation. Most do not want to lose a year that could be spent on anything — career, additional education, traveling and anything else. It should also be kept in mind that at best you’ll just lose a year, and at worst you can get a psychological or a physical trauma — who knows which place you will be assigned to and what collective will be there. Nobody likes the prospect of scrubbing toilets or building a cottage for a local general for a year, even if this is not happening anymore and this is only a folk myth.

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While the presidents talk nicely about the homeland, patriotism, etc., the population nods to them sluggishly, looking around at the same time. However, when time comes to stand for some mythical idea for a whole year, families stop being passive and successfully resist the state “intervention”.

It represents a lot of things. In modern Russia, people value freedom, though not quite consciously. Just the “patience” threshold is very high. Only when the government is knocking on the door, only then does the family resist as it can.

Certainly, the most horrible thing from the current situation is that young men have to enter adult life through corruption. The fact that there is absolutely no discussion of this topic only proves that it is deeply stuck in our heads. It is normal for us to give a bribe and get an “excuse”. Moreover, the people who help with the “excuse” from the conscription are very easy to find during the military age. The only thing left to do is to make a price list on the website of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

A reasonable question is: if you can pay off with a bribe, what is so difficult to legalize this procedure? Let those who do not want to serve, pay that amount of money before they reach 30 to the state and that’s it. And that money will go to the professional army. At the same time, a lot of money will be saved, including the money and time of the military and medical personnel as well as of the young men and their families.

If the professional army cannot be sponsored by the budget due to insufficient finances and there is no political will to raise the taxes for everyone to cover the costs of the army and not only to these who are lucky enough to have a boy, in that case, let the state introduce the abovementioned procedure. You can now order a custom car plate (see the addition at the end), however, prior to that this practice only existed in the form of corruption and bribery of the GIBDD (Main Directorate for Road Traffic Safety).

The answer is obvious — the corrupt money goes to people involved in corruption. They do not want to lose their earnings and do not care about such things as the depravation of the society, the decline of morality because of corruption and other ethical issues.

The way out of this situation is the introduction of a professional army and the abolition of the compulsory conscription, which de facto is the cause of why almost everybody pursues higher education of any quality, regardless of the desire to study. It is also one of the causes of the enormous corruption in our society.

Let’s go back to the beginning and think about why the young conscripts and the society as a whole do not speak about this problem. But how do you talk about it? Those who have not served bribed an official and it is not in their interests to speak on this subject. Those who have served understand that, frankly speaking, they just spent a year of their life and gained a questionable experience. Those who didn’t get an “excuse” and did not serve think about solving their problem and they do not have time for lengthy speeches. And when the problem is solved, the bad is quickly forgotten and we begin to discuss more important issues — LGBT, Ukrainian nationalists, the adoption of children by Americans and so on. We’ll just move the beam a little bit — it prevents us from looking at the speck.

Added on the 18th January 2017 It turns out that the “radical” (!) law that would legalize the sale of the custom car plates at GIBDD, which was much discussed around a year, was not adopted. Some abstruse system was implemented that assigns plates without any interference from the outside. That means that it is not possible to officially or unofficially buy custom plates at the GIBDD. And though I highly doubt it, but that’s material for another article.

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Stefan Vanli

Editor

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Biała Podlaska

Poland