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Grigory Pasko: Russia’s Military Memories

A country that still hasn’t come back home from the war

By Grigory Pasko, journalist

“…The wizard in the light-blue helicopter has already arrived,
the helicopter turned out to be military.”
– Viktor Shenderovich.
* * *

Once upon a time on a combat ship, where I had come on assignment from my editorial board, the commander, who was angry over something or other, said to me:  “Journalist, why have you come? I am not obligated to talk with you. There’s not one word about journalists in this ship’s Charter.”  Naturally, I replied to him that he was mistaken, as I had come under orders from his superiors.

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But that got me thinking too: if there is such a thing as militaryjournalists, then why is their activity not regulated by anythingbesides the instruction of the GlavPUr [The Main PoliticalAdministration, an all-pervasive institution in the Soviet military,entrusted with ensuring Soviet-style political correctness–Trans.]? For example, one could imagine a Soviet type law “On the military massinformation media.”  And why, indeed, is nothing said about the pressin the ship’s Charter?  After all, by that time, some ships even hadtheir own editorial boards, for example on aircraft carriers.

Onewonders what the point is of having special military jurists(prosecutors, judges), athletes, doctors, writers, and artists (yes,there was even a military branch of literary authors).  At point I cameup with the idea that these auxiliary professions in the military neednot wear military uniforms – after all, you could hardly call writingpoems and interviewing minor naval captains the same as fighting todefend the motherland.  However when I shared this idea with thosearound me, only combat officers and admirals supported me.  It seemedthat the artists and athletes themselves enjoyed playing soldier.

Nowadays things may be changing.  The current minister of defense of Russia,Anatoly Serdyukov, is clearly not a combat man, and certainly did not cut his teeth on the bloody hills of Chechnya.  His name is not even all that well known within the military, yet his endless series of reforms are beginning to attract some attention – especially the latest decision to take the uniforms off military journalists, doctors, jurists, etc.

On June 3rd the Duma passed a new law on the second reading which repeals the obligatory assignment of military service personnel inside the military tribunals.  According to the amendments introduced into the law”On the military courts of the Russian Federation”, officers called forwork in military courts are not allowed to be on active duty – they either have to suspend service in the army or resign into the reserves.The draft law likewise envisions the mandatory dismissal from militaryservice of all military service personnel-employees of the staffs ofmilitary courts.

tribunal061809.jpgAs the survivor of two drawn out kangaroo court trialsand dozens of smaller trials against me by the Russian military, I can assertwith the utmost confidence that if my judges weren’t in uniform, they would havelikely adopted completely different decisions. Personally, right now I canreact only positively to the decision to relieve judges and journalistsof the burden of the uniform.

Why? Because the so-called “assignee” does not simply wear a uniform.He also subsists on all kinds of allowances in the Ministry of Defense,gets his next promotion, additional monetary compensation for militaryrank, hardship duty, length of service, receives housing in the form ofan apartment, free medical care, makes use of service transport, etc.  These priveleges, or perhaps the threat of having them taken away, strongly impacts how you treat certain cases.

More recent cases show that my experience was not isolated.  I recall how clumsily and disgustingly the military doctor from Burdenko hospital tried to justify himself withrespect to the ailments of private Andrey Sychev (Sychev had beenabused by “old-timers” [hazed], as the result of which he had to haveboth legs amputated). The doctor, hiding the eyes from the camera,babbled something about the “conigenital” ailments of the soldier. Hewas clearly feeling the weight of the uniform upon him. His epauletsmust have clogged up his ears, in which the Hippocratic Oath ought tohave been sounding at that moment.

I am glad that CSKA [The former Central Sports Club of the Red Army,whose extremely popular football, hockey, and basketball teams areperennial champions or contenders in their respective leagues, andwhose players routinely figure on Soviet and Russian national teamrosters–Trans.] will no longer have anything to do with the Ministry ofDefense. And I hope that soon there won’t be any more military judges,procurators, and others, including, by the way, military KGB men, leftin the country. Somebody has calculated that in our country 5 millionhealthy young people wear a uniform in our country: namely the army,firefighters, disaster response workers (the Ministry for EmergencySituations is yet another army, not controlled by anyone), securityguards, police of all shapes and sizes, court bailiffs, and even the Gulagvertyhais.

Until our civilians can escape the yoke of the military uniform, we will remain a country that still hasn’t come back home from the war.