Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Afghan Veterans Early Example of Civil Society in Russia, Prostakov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 22 – Many Russians are accustomed to think of civil society as being when people take part in demonstrations, but such a definition is too “one-sided and narrow,” Sergey Prostakov says. In fact, “civil society is the ability to recognize oneself part of a group having its own interests in the country and the state.”

            Viewed in this way, the editor of MBK news says, it is obvious that one of the very first manifestations of civil society at the end of Soviet times and the beginning of Russian ones was the coming together of veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and their creation of organizations to represent and defend their views (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/sergej-prostakov-afganskaya-vojna/).

                This week marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Soviet army into Afghanistan, and that war, Prostakov says, still has “many lessons for our society,” albeit most of them remain “unlearned.”  But one of those lessons, he suggests, is especially important for Russians in 2019. 

            When the formerly all-powerful state collapsed and people were left on their own, often uncertain of how they should interact with others, the editor continues, “there was one group in our society of citizen in our society who approached those challenging times with a resource rare at that time – a feeling of solidarity. These were the Afghan war veterans.”

            In many respects, they shouldn’t be idealized. Out of their milieu arose much of organized crime. But there was one way, Prostakov says, in which they did show the way. At a time when many viewed them with hostility or indifference, they organized themselves to provide mutual support and defend themselves.

            The Afgantsy, as the soldiers came to be known, quickly understood that “they were needed only by one another.  Their sense of distinctiveness and commonality led to the formation of Ruslan Aushev’s Committee on the Affairs of the Warrior-Internationalists and numerous regional organizations.

            “In my native Kursk,” Prostakov says, “Afgantsy organized a collection to create a monument to the 105 Kursk residents who had died. In the majority of our cities, monuments to the Afghan war were put up by the same means.” And because officials could not dismiss them as individuals when they were organized, attitudes toward them began to change.

            By the mid-1990s, the Russian state was ready to provide them with special benefits, including the right to import tobacco and alcohol without having to pay any tariffs.  They received housing benefits, and many of them became well-off. Perhaps most important, being an Afganets became an asset for politicians in elections. 

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