The Duma started debating the bill “On Alternative Civil Service.” Society has been waiting for this bill for a long time. Debates regarding alternative civil service have been going on for nine years, that is, since the relevant bill has been prepared and offered for consideration to the Duma.

The Duma debated the bill during their meetings several times. Finally, in spring 1999 the Duma declined the bill. New attempts to prepare and pass the bill on alternative service were made. In 2000, Duma deputy Yuly Rybakov prepared his own version of the bill with support of the Rightist Union. Duma deputy Eduard Vorobyev noted that the document was rather democratic, but the Duma did not debate it then, because the government issued a negative conclusion about the bill of Rybakov. Rybakov did not surrender. He wanted to take into account comments of the governmental officials and to propose the bill for renewed discussion. Simultaneously federal executive power bodies completed preparation of their own version of the bill “On Alternative Civil Service” according to instructions of the state commission for military development. The federal government presented this bill for debating to the Duma in the first reading, although previously there was a real storm of emotions in society about the bill.

On April 12, deputies of the Rightist Union faction decided not to support the governmental bill during debating in the Duma. If majority of the Duma deputies had supported the Rightist Union, debating of the bill would have been postponed indefinitely again, because the Rightist Union deputies would have had to amend their version of the bill.

Such stance of the rightists causes embarrassment, because during discussion of the governmental version of the bill all amendments proposed by Duma deputies were included into the bill during a meeting of the reconciliation commission with active participation of the Rightist Union representatives. Both deputies and officers of the General Staff decided to propose that the Duma define the period of alternative civil service and the rules for making an application for the right to undertake such service.

It is easy to guess the motives which guided representatives of the Rightist Union who revised their stance and proposed their own version of the bill on alternative civil service. Over the last two weeks, the rightists organized meetings and demonstrations in some cities named “Military reform now!” and turned the serious dispute about problems of military development and alternative service in Russia into a political show, to which the Rightist Union attracted the leading artists of cinema, politicians and musical bands.

Activists of the Rightist Union voiced ideas of their leaders Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, who advocated reduction of the military service period from two years to six months in the next year or two, and the period of alternative civil service to one year. The Rightist Union also proposes accelerated transition to professional Armed Forces. According to Nemtsov, “the price attached to this issue will amount to 30 billion rubles or approximately 10% of the military budget.”

A number of politicians already denied the veracity of this statement. Speaking about this proposal Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called the ideas of accelerated transition to professional Armed Forces “populist and far from reality.” According to Ivanov, the state cannot transit to professional Armed Forces quickly, because it simply lacks money. Hence, Ivanov says that it is also not realistic to reduce the period of military and alternative civil service.

Chair of the Federation Council Sergei Mironov sticks to the same opinion. Speaking about his attitude to the bill on alternative civil service he said, “I agree that the law on alternative service is necessary, to let those who cannot serve in the Armed Forces due to poor health or due to convictions fulfill their civil duty. However, together with many people I am afraid that it will be difficult to check if convictions of a person are genuine. I do not doubt that it is necessary to check them. There are many disputes about the period of service. We did not discuss this issue in the Federation Council yet. We are waiting to see which bill comes to us from the Duma. Probably it is necessary to listen to arguments of the government and set the period of alternative civil service at four years, bearing in mind that the guys that serve for two years actually bear all hardships and deprivations written in the military bylaws.”

The Unity, Motherland-All Russia factions, communists, agrarians and many other deputies support the bill in the Duma.

It was Labor and Social Policy Minister Alexander Pochinok who presented the bill to the Duma. Speaking about the governmental version of the bill, the minister emphasized that the government “prepared serious amendments to the bill, which take into account all comments of deputies stated in alternative documents.” For example, says Pochinok, a Russian citizen of conscript age has the right to undertake alternative civil service if his convictions do not let him undertake military service, as well as if he is a representative of an indigenous small ethnic group residing in the territory of Russia. The period of alternative civil service is four years in comparison to two years of military service. The minister adds that it is possible to reduce the period of alternative civil service if a citizen of conscript age undertakes it in a way that corresponds with his main chosen educational field. The minister also spoke about the rights of a drafting commission that may deny a conscript the right of alternative service. Pochinok notes that now there are “approximately 3,000 applications, but if the law is enacted, there will be about 10,000 such applications.” The Labor and Social Policy Minister can prepare 250,000 jobs for those who choose alternative civil service. Speaking about financial support of the law on alternative civil service Pochinok emphasizes that all money will be assigned from the federal budget. People choosing alternative civil service will also receive a number of social benefits, including the right of free travel on public transportation. It will be possible to undertake alternative civil service only at enterprises and institutions subordinated to the state. A person undertaking alternative civil service also cannot occupy managerial positions.