Russia: The Case of the Tenth-Grade Pacifist from Tatarstan

Natalia Vasilieva, The Evening Kazan

They threatened to mess up his permanent record if the tenth grader at a village school in the Arsky region did not take military training classes. The classes are required for boys as part of OBZh — a health and safety course taught in all Russian schools. “I’m a pacifist. I think it’s just not right for me to assemble and disassemble automatic weapons. I don’t want to spend beautiful days in May playing war,” explained 17-year-old Kamil Sh. to newspaper Evening Kazan. Staff at the human rights organization “For Our Sons” note that this is the first case in Tatarstan where a student has openly refused to take part in the OBZh classes out of conviction. Up until now, if young people asked to be excused from the training, it was on grounds of poor health.

A reminder to our readers: instruction in preparedness for military service has been required for high school students, and also for those in pre-professional colleges or technical schools, since 2010, when it was established by order of the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Educational Sciences of the Russian Federation. The pre-conscription exercises are run as part of the OBZh program and include a stay in a training camp. For teachers of the Novo-Kyrpaisky School, where there are about 130 students, it came as a complete surprise when 10th-grader Kamil, hearing of the planned training classes, categorically refused to take part in them, declaring his pacifist convictions. These sorts of ideas usually arise in the heads of young people in cities, not in country villages.

“The boy must have been reading some sort of thing on the internet.” This was the guess of Ilgiz Salakhov, Director of the Novo-Kyrpaisky school, in a conversation with Evening Kazan.“The training classes are required for all students in the upper grades. The question about refusal is now being decided by the Regional Department of Education.”

“At the school they told me, that if I don’t go to the five day training camp in May, they will give me a low grade in OBZh. With that as an excuse, they summoned my parents and me to the RDE,” Kamil himself told Evening Kazan’s correspondent. “And the official there put pressure on my parents, with the result that I’m left without their support. My parents are afraid that I won’t pass to the next grade or that the school will withhold my diploma. I can’t convince my family that they have some rights here, and that has made the whole question more complicated.”

The student turned for help to “For Our Sons,” the Tatarstan human rights organization for parents of conscripts. The organization has undertaken to defend the interests of this student from a village school. It has been in touch with the administrator of the Arsky RDE and with the director of the school with the request not to give Kamil an unsatisfactory grade in OBZh. The rights organization argued that taking part in exercises that constitute a preparation for conscription into the army is against this young man’s convictions. They have proposed that, at the time of the exercises, this tenth-grade pacifist could do medical training, training in fire safety or other skills training, which could prepare him for later duty in Alternative Government Service. They have sent a similar proposal to the Arsky and Atninsky Regional Military Commission with the request that the Commission take up the case of the conscript Kamil Sh.

“It’s important that the military commission be aware of a kid’s moral principles so that, when he comes of age, they can offer him alternative service instead of the army,” explained the head of “For Our Sons,” Gyerman Alyotkin.

Already one letter from For Our Sons has flown off to Tatarstan’s authorities for the rights of children, with a request that they monitor enforcement of this 17-year-old high school student’s constitutional right to freedom of conscience. The office of the children’s ombudsman informed us that, at this time, records of this history have disappeared. “I sent out all the necessary electronic and paper applications to different institutions. But all these officials have hardly even read the Constitution…” Kamil explained to VK. “If my attempt to show that I have a right to refuse to take part in military training fails, I’m not planning to go to the exercises. They can lower my grade, but my convictions won’t change… How do my class-mates feel about my situation? They don’t know anything about it. At least, not as far as I know.”

For Our Sons informs us that there have been only a few cases in the country where a students were given official permission not to take part in the exercises for reasons other than reasons of health. Last year, for example, in Perm, a tenth-grade pacifist did succeed in legally extracting himself from the military training exercises.

This is an article by Natalia Vasilieva first published in the Evening Kazan on 18th April, 2017.

Translation by Patricia Stewart.

Photo: Sketch portrait of Kamil Sh. / For Our Sons via Friends House Moscow

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Comments

Comment by a Russian activist about the readers' response to the story: Remarks by Russian readers on the paper’s commentary thread were positive in tone and overwhelmingly in support of Kamil. Readers were of the opinion that military training has no place in schools; they felt that Kamil’s parents should give him more support. Some wrote in favor of an all volunteer army. One former conscript asserted that military training trains people only to behave like a flock of sheep.

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