The government is beefing up its Youth Army, with the aim of a million members by next year’s 75th Victory Day. In Putin's Russia, the union of people, church and army has replaced the old triad of party, army and people, as the path to shared happiness and personal fulfillment.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – In recent days, the Children's Rights Commissioner, Anna Kuznetsova, sent a directive to all regional offices to push children as young as seven to join the Youth Army* (YA), a patriotic youth movement supported by the state.
At present, the YA has 350,000 members under the age of 14, and its goal is to reach half a million by 9 May (Victory Day in World War II), and a million by next year’s Victory Day, which will mark the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Second Word War.
YA is not yet present in every Russian school, but the directive will allow it to open branches in all of the country’s orphanages, thus boosting the total number of members. Parental agreement is needed for all children, except for orphans who are guaranteed by the State.
The directive recommends that consideration be given to "personal characteristics and qualities", since not all children may be suitable for military-related sports activities.
Today’s Youth Army is a throwback to Soviet times, when the Communist regime set up its own militarised youth movement, the Young Pioneers, in replacement of the Russian branch of the Boy Scout Movement, established in 1909 on the orders of Tsar Nicholas II who had invited me Lord Robert Baden-Powell to Russia after he founded the first Boy Scouts group in England the previous year.
The Children's Rights Commissioner has justified the forced "militarisation" of orphans by the need to give abandoned and maladjusted children a more effective perspective on life, given that statistically only ten per cent manage to become integrated int society on their own. The remaining 90 per cent tend to commit suicide (10 per cent), get involved in crime (40 per cent) or become dependent on alcohol and drugs (40 per cent), this according to data by the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation.
Children with "limited physical abilities" are also referred to the Youth Army, a widespread practice in the latter Soviet period given the country’s demographic and social crisis caused by the Soviet Union’s failed military campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These children were called the "children of the children of war ".
At that time, the "military treatment" was deemed an antidote to various forms of schizophrenia and mental disorder, which could be healed sharing in the great patriotic enterprise.
Now, in Putin's Russia, the union of people, church and army has replaced the old triad of party, army and people, as a path to shared happiness and personal fulfillment.
The recent radicalisation of the patriotic ideal, which begun with the wars in Georgia (2011) and Ukraine (2014), comes on the eve of 18 March, the fifth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, a symbolic moment for the new great Russia.
The activities of the Youth Army include military games with evocative names, such as Victory, Star, Young Soldier, Sea Blaze, Siberian shield and the like, which teach "field movements", how the assemble and disassemble weapons, and various martial arts, as noted in the manuals found on the organisation’s website. Other activities are camping, trekking, outdoor competitions, prizes and extended stays at army youth camps with the spiritual support and assistance of Orthodox military chaplains, who can now be found throughout the Armed Forces.
In schools, special festivals are dedicated to writing compositions like "Letter to the soldier", drawings of the "Soldier who protects the country" or "The homeland of heroes", as well as open-days for “Call-up Day” or "Victory Volunteer Day".
According to the regulations of these activities, "a good result can lead to participation in the projects by the regional centres for military and patriotic education", including the Union of Officers, the Fighting Fraternity, the Cossack Unions and the like, which also hand out uniforms, shirts and various gadgets.
On 2 March, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, General Valery Gerasimov, spoke about the situation of the Armed Forces, stating that "Russia must fully guarantee its technical, technological and organizational excellence towards any potential adversary".
Plans include toughening the compulsory military service, which today is relatively easy to avoid thanks to educational (university), family and work considerations. In 2010, President Putin had ended compulsory military service and ordered the transition towards a professional army, but evidently times have changed.
What is more, schools already receive directives on how to prepare for war. And, on several occasions, Putin has warned the country’s main enterprises to be ready to convert to a war economy.
A few days ago, in the Cathedral of Saint Isaac in St Petersburg, the Red Army choir performed a concert of Soviet military and patriotic songs, including a famous song for children but upgraded to fit the present day: "May there be on earth peace, but if the boss calls for the final battle, dear uncle Vova [Putin], we are with you."
The children present at the concert took an oath, promising to take the formerly Russian Alaska back one day and defeat the Samurai, a popular topic at a time when Russia is negotiating a final agreement to formally end the Second World War with Japan.
* The full name is the All-Russia Young Army National Military Patriotic Social Movement Association (Всероссийское военно-патриотическое общественное движение «Юнармия», transliterated as Yunarmiya.