Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Since Tsarist Times, Some Non-Russians have Not Been Subject to the Draft

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – After the demise of the Soviet Union, Moscow for many years did not draft men from the North Caucasus for service in the Russian Army because of fears that they would cause problems within the military or acquire skills that they might subsequently use in fighting the Russian state.

            But more recently, both because of demography – the share of 18-year-old males among Muslim nationalities is much higher than that among Russians – and because non-Russians wanted their “military ticket” so they could serve in the military, Moscow backed down, although it is still drafting a far smaller share of the Muslims than of the Russians.

            (For background on this back and forth, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/10/window-on-eurasia-moscow-still-not.html,  

            While many have treated this situation in the North Caucasus as sui generis, in fact, the Russian state, tsarist, Soviet, and post-Soviet, has a tradition extending back to 1874 when the tsarist government imposed supposedly “universal” military service. It wasn’t then, and it hasn’t been since, although the nations excluded from it have varied over time.

            The Russian 7 portal provides an extremely useful discussion of this history, pointing out that in tsarist times, Finns and people from the most distant regions of the empire – including much of Siberia and the Far East, Siberia, Central Asia, and even portions of Arkhangelsk gubernia -- were not called to serve (russian7.ru/post/kakie-narody-rossii-i-sssr-osvobozhdal/).

                Among the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus who were not subject to the tsarist draft were the Kurds, the Abkhazians, the Nogais, the Azerbaijanis “and many others.” Muslims in the Terek and Kuban regions were also excused, although they were required to pay a special tax. Significantly, both Irkutsk and Yenisey Cossacks were excused from the draft as well.

            The Soviets continued this tradition, even after Moscow adopted the law on military service that nominally made it a universal requirement.  At the start of World War II, Moscow drafted people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, but problems with language and education limited their utility and the draft in those regions was suspended.

            On July 30, 1942, the State Defense Committee in fact banned drafting representatives of North Caucasus mountaineers and extended that ban at least as far as service at the front was concerned to Uzbeks, Turkmens, Tajiks, Kazakhs Kyrgyz, Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Daghestanis, Chechens, Ingush, Kabardins, Balkars, and Ossetins.

            Moscow also ended the drafting during the war of Germans, Poles, Svans, and Khezsurs, although in these cases and all others, the government did allow for volunteers.

            Between 1948 and 1953, Moscow suspended the drafting of various categories of people, mostly ethnic Russians, to allow for the recovery of the economy. But after the death of Stalin, it restored a universal draft, something that led to a significant increase in the number of non-Russians in the military and ethnic clashes between them and the ethnic Russian majority.

            But even during this period, Russia 7 says, some were not drafted, most prominently the representatives of the numerically small peoples of the Russian North and the Amur River basin, a total of 39 nationalities.

            With the collapse of Soviet power, the Russian military extended that arrangement for the numerically small peoples to those in the Caucasus and elsewhere as well. “In fact,” the portal says, “representatives of other peoples living in Siberia and the Far East were not called to serve” because the young men live too far from cities to allow for the organization of a draft.

            Given the centrality of military service to citizenship especially in Russia, the exclusion of these groups makes them truly second class citizens more than beneficiaries of a concession by the center because it signals just as it did earlier the state's view that they are less than fully reliable (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/04/soviet-government-classified-nations-of.html).  

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