RUSSIA TAKES HALF A STEP TOWARDS A CIVIL SOCIETY

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The government finally approved the bill “On alternative civil service” (instead of compulsory military service). The conciliatory working group including Duma deputies, officers of the General Staff and government officials has been polishing this document since its presentation on January 29, 2002. Improvement of the bill took two weeks. Russian society has been moving towards this event for more than eight long years, and these years were filled with heated disputes. The governmental version of the bill will be submitted to the Duma. What does the document say? What will its fate be like? Duma deputy Eduard Vorobyev, member of the working group, says that the Duma will debate the bill “dynamically,” but the debate will be “serious.’ On which problems will the argument focus?

The new version of the bill on alternative civil service adjusted four of the six fundamental issues, about which opinions of the Duma and government differed. According to Vorobyev, the document became “more liberal, but both deputies and government officials, including the military, are in general happy with it.” Major General Valery Astanin, director of the drafting and manning department of the main organizational and mobilization department of the General Staff holds a similar opinion; “We took into account the most diverse standpoints expressed by Duma deputies and government members regarding the bill on alternative civil service. We took them into account from the point of view of the interests of the state and the private individual.”

First, the new document thoroughly outlines the rules according to which people in alternative civil service have the right to study in educational institutions in their spare time.

Second, members of the working group included into the bill a softer principle of manning of state units and organizations where young men were in alternative civil service. The new version of the bill allows such servicemen to live at home, but in the interests of the state the bill permits an exterritorial principle still, that is, young men may be sent for alternative civil service to other regions of the country.

Third, the authors of the bill reached a consensus regarding opportunities for organization of alternative civil service both in civil institutions and in security agencies. A special federal body will be responsible for such activities. The Labor and Social Development Ministry will evidently be such a body. The ministry will outline the list of the positions in which alternative civil service is possible. Hence it will be not the Chief of the General Staff, but Labor Minister Alexander Pochinok who reports to the government about the bill on alternative civil service.

Fourth, the working commission concluded that people completing alternative military service in civil posts in security agencies would live separately from conscripts completing military service.

Meanwhile, according to Vorobyev, the commission failed to reach consensus about the period of alternative civil service and principles on the granting of approval for alternative service. The bill included governmental versions of the relevant clauses. According to the bill, which Pochinok presented to the government on February 14, the period of alternative civil service in the Armed Forces and other security agencies of the country will be three years and in civil institutions (hospitals, old people’s homes and so on) will be four years. During the meetings of the working commission Vorobyev, Valdimir Lysenko and other representatives of the Right-Wing Forces Union spoke against this clause. They say that alternative civil service should be not by 100% but by 50% longer than the military service. Duma deputies are going to promote their idea during the parliamentary debates.

Duma deputies also disagree with the substantiation principle for granting of the right for alternative civil service.

According to the governmental version of the bill, the document entitles drafting commissions to decide whether to permit alternative service to young men or not. A conscript choosing alternative civil service should write an application two months prior to the drafting commission’s meeting, explaining the motives for refusal of military service. Two people should confirm these motives. The drafting commission has the right to deny the right of alternative civil service for a conscript. If the conscript disagrees with the commission’s verdict he will have to prove his opinion in the court.

Vorobyev and his colleagues in the Right-Wing Forces Union faction spoke against such a procedure and insisted that the document should state only the principle of notification of the drafting commission. Duma deputies also said that the drafting commission itself should attempt to prove to a conscript that his views do not contradict military service, if it considers this necessary. The work of the commission also had some other results. Andrei Nikolaev, chair of the Duma defense committee, who was also working in the commission, fully supported the governmental version of the bill on alternative civil service, but advocates invalidation of all postponements of drafting granted to conscripts. However, the governmental version of the bill on alternative civil service did not take into account this comment. According to officers of the Defense Ministry, 2,000 young men have announced their wish to claim alternative civil service. The General Staff predicts that this figure will not change if the Duma passes the governmental version of the bill on alternative civil service.

Meanwhile, there is a probability that the Duma will pass a very liberal version of the bill on alternative civil service, which will contribute to mass evasion of military service. Lieutenant General Vasily Smirnov, deputy director of the main organizational and mobilization department of the General Staff, says the number of conscripts wanting alternative civil service “may grow to 200,000.”

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