English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 14, 2004

Alternative service for small-numbered peoples

Tair Bodroshev, Chairman of Public Youth Association of Indigenous Small-numbered Peoples of the Altai Republic

Since Soviet times, indigenous peoples of Altai have been held in high esteem in the ranks of Russia’s armed forces; they have valorously carried out their constitutional duties. More than once the Republic’s military registration and enlistment office has received praise from officers in command of soldiers of Tuba, Kumandin and Chelkan nationalities, because these guys are well trained from their childhood. They are capable of great endurance, good marksmen, well-trained in terrain orientation, and there has not been any case of being absent from their military units without official leave. In a word, our guys have never made a poor showing.

However, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the living foundations of the Altai Republic’s indigenous population have taken a turn for the worse, communication has ceased to exist, the young village population has failed to find jobs and shelter in this stern market world.

The passing of such laws as the laws on Guarantees of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Territories of Traditional Nature Use, as well as General Principles to Organise Communities of Northern Indigenous Peoples, has made it possible for indigenous peoples to breathe with relief taking it on trust that the state has at long last taken Russia’s indigenous peoples under its wing.

As you know, to foster realisation of the RF citizens’ constitutional right to substitute one’s conscription to serve in the armed forces for alternative civil service duty the State Duma of the Russian Federation in 2002 passed the law “On Alternative Civil Service” envisaging the right to substitute one’s conscription for alternative civil service with regard to those belonging to an indigenous small-numbered people, engaged in a traditional lifestyle and occupation. Indirect objectives of this federal law are: (1) protection of primordial habitat and a traditional lifestyle of small-numbered peoples; (2) preservation and development of the unique culture of small-numbered peoples; and (3) preservation of biological diversity on territories of traditional nature use.

In connection with the above, the Public Youth Association of Indigenous Small-numbered Peoples of the Altai Republic, sponsored by the Siberian Center for the Support of Social Initiatives, has convened a workshop for indigenous conscripts on the subject of “Alternative Civil Service” in the village of Uimen, Choiskiy District.

I, Tair Bodroshev, Chairman of the Youth Association, spoke at the workshop about the activities of my organisation, its achievements, contacts and problems. Several useful meetings were arranged during the workshop to provide the conscripts with a lot of interesting, cognitive information. In their turn, the attendees had a chance to put questions and make their comments and suggestions. Then, I told the workshop participants about RAIPON, its activities, what problems it was handling, about the website of the Association, and how it helped Russia’s aborigines to be in the picture. I also told them that youth information centers were mushrooming all across Russia and that our youth organisation was willing to establish such a center, too, joining the information network, entering the unified information space.

As mentioned above, to do one’s alternative civil service an indigenous conscript must be be involved in a traditional lifestyle and occupation. In this connection, the Youth Association jointly with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Employment Department of the Altai Republic have agreed upon and identified the locations for possible alternative civil service of future conscripts. Hunting areas, forestry and peasant farms have been chosen as such locations. Besides, the Youth Association has prepared a questionnaire for indigenous conscripts to find out their opinion of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and whether or not they want to substitute conscription for alternative service.

And here is the response we have received

Conscripts, born in 1986-1988, from three districts (Turachakskiy, Choiskiy and Maiminskiy) inhabited by ethnic groups of our Republic (Kumandins, Tubalar and Chelkans) have taken part in the inquiry by questionnaire.

The answers to the question “What is your attitude towards the Russian army?” were: “Positive” – 89 percent; “Negative” – 5 percent, and “Find it difficult to answer” – 6 percent. Conscripts from small-numbered indigenous peoples of the Altai Republic, therefore, regard the Russian army positively on the whole.

The question “Would you like to serve in the armed forces?” was answered with “Yes” – 46 percent; “No” – 39 percent; and “Find it difficult to answer” – 15 percent.

Thus, 46 percent want to do their national service in the armed forces, which is an indication that indigenous conscripts are patriotically minded youth not willing to use the right to alternative civil service yet. The rest 39 percent of conscripts are very likely to be scared of unauthorized treatment or of ethnic discrimination in the army.

The question “In what cases would you decline alternative civil service ( ACS )” was given the following replies: “It’s better to serve in the army than in a mental hospital” – 40 percent; “A long term” – 35 percent; “Hard to say” – 25 percent. These results show that ACS conscripts are put in a really tight corner: a longer term of service, which is 1.75 times longer than the enlistment service in the armed forces, unenviable jobs for ACS conscripts (mental hospitals, boarding houses for elderly people or building dachas for generals on serfdom terms).

 The question “If you wished to substitute the enlisted service in the armed forces for ACS , then in what sectors of traditional nature use would you prefer to serve?” was given the following answers: “Hunting” – 42 percent; “Forestry” – 39 percent, and “Peasant farming” – 19 percent.

The listing of these traditional nature use activities is a great achievement since everybody, including the Ministry, the Department and the military registration and enlistment office, were convinced that there were no entities of traditional nature use in the Altai Republic, and, therefore, there was no (alternative) place for indigenous conscripts to go to. Consequently, they had to be drafted to do their national service in the armed forces. Besides, A.A. Gromozdin, Deputy Military Commissar in charge of enlistment declared: “I personally do not recognise the indigenous peoples’ right to ACS ”. Get this straight!

The inclusion of hunting, forestry and peasant occupations in the list of activities for alternative civil service in the Altai Republic is a great achievement.

The question of “Do you need the Youth Association’s assistance in filing your application for ACS ?” was unanimously answered with “Yes”, because registration of an application for ACS is very complicated.

According to Article 11 “Submission of applications by citizens to substitute enlisted service in the armed forces for alternative civil service”:

1. Citizens have the right to submit applications about substitution of enlisted service in the armed forces for ACS to the military registration and enlistment office by the time fixed:

  By April 1 – citizens subject to enlistment in October-December of the current year;

  By October 1 – citizens subject to enlistment in April-June of the current year.

2. The citizen is to give reasons and circumstances prompting him to apply for it.

A curriculum vitae and a character reference from the place of employment and/or studies of the citizen (employed (formerly employed) and/or studying (formerly studying) are attached to the application. The citizen has the right to attach other documents to his application (for example, confirming his relation to the Tubalar, Chelkans, Kumandins or Telengits). The citizen also has the right to indicate in his application the names of those agreeing to confirm his arguments that he is one of the indigenous people (for instance, our Youth Association).

Conclusion: since the federal law “On Alternative Civil Service” # 113, dated 25 July 2002, became effective on 1 January 2004, it is necessary to carry out preliminary public work among indigenous conscripts before 1 April 2004, so that they could make use of the federal law on ACS during the spring call-up, and in October-December 2004 (Section 2, Article 11).

Therefore, it is absolutely vital for the Chairman of our Youth Association to be a member of the call-up board to stand out for the interests of indigenous conscripts willing to use their right to substitute military service for ACS .

The results of our work

1. It has been found out that in their majority indigenous conscripts did not know about the existence of the federal law “On Alternative Civil Service”.

2.There is an understanding between the Ministry of Labor, the Employment Department, and the military registration and enlistment office of the Altai Republic about listing hunting, forestry and peasant economic units as “organisations of traditional branches of economy and traditional occupations”.

3.It has been established (based on inquiry by questionnaire) that indigenous conscripts regard the Russian army positively, although they are scared of unauthorized treatment and ethnic discrimination.

4.It has been identified that in cases indigenous conscripts are willing to use their right to substitute enlisted military service in the armed forces with ACS ; the majority give preference to hunting, since by nature they are all hunters, and this occupation is a good deal more to their liking.