Tuesday, June 7, 2016

As More Women Join Post-Soviet Armies, ‘Babovshchina’ Joins ‘Dedovshchina’ as a Problem

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 7 – “Dedovshchina,” the informal system in which soldiers who have been in service longer or who have a higher rank, oppress their juniors by force or other means in order to benefit from their “services” of various kinds and even to win favor from commanders was a problem in Soviet times and remains one in many post-Soviet militaries.

            But it has now been joined by another, “babovshchina,” for situations in which both the senior soldiers and the junior ones are female, has emerged as ever more women join the armed services in Russia, Ukraine and several other post-Soviet states. And this “rule of the older women” is every bit as vicious and destructive of good order as its male counterpart.

            Because there have been far fewer women in the ranks and because the women who are more senior are fewer in number and  have less experience with this particular pathology of post-Soviet military life, “babovshchina” has attracted less attention; but recent stories suggest it is becoming a major problem.

            One article features photographs showing just how demeaning this kind of behavior is in the Russian army (yaplakal.com/forum2/topic756537.html), and another suggests that it is already discouraging young women in Ukraine from joining the military lest they fall victim to this plague (nv.ua/opinion/bochkala/babovshchina-v-armii-141345.html).

            To date, the Soldiers Mothers Committees and other rights organizations have focused far less on this criminal activity than they have on its male counterpart. But that may change, especially as governments seek to use women in the ranks both in the name of equality and to deal with demographic problems.

            But now that “babovshchina” has surfaced in the media, it is entirely possible that this will provoke something else: a discussion as to whether it radicalizes and politicizes its victims in the same way that “dedovshchina” does. If the answer to that is yes, then a new and more radical kind of feminism could arise in one or more of these states.

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