Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Dedovshchina in the Military Source of Many Russian Notions about ‘a Real Man,’ Levada Center Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – In advance of Fatherland Defenders Day, which many view as the main “men’s” holiday, the editors of the Levada Center polling agency say that what many Russians think of as “a real man”  is the product of the brutal system of dedovshchina in which more senior draftees and officers mistreat more junior ones.

            “In the last Soviet and first post-Soviet times, this is how things stood,” they write in Vedomosti. “At the age of 18, a young man educated” mostly by their mothers and the schools to treat all people equally and with respect was drafted and trained to value very different things (; also posted at

            Mothers handed over their sons to commanders “believing that the latter would make [them] real men.”  But what military service did, the Levada Center continues, was to show young men that the values of their mothers and of their schools were incorrect and that in fact these values were “exactly opposite” those that real men should follow.

            Through the experience of dedovshchina, they learned that they should not be defending the weak but beating them, “that force isn’t in what is right” but in who has the ability and power to force others in every and all circumstances to use force in order to impose his will.  “Justice, right and law are not for all,” in this understanding, “but only for the weak.”

            After military service, these men carried the values they had learned from dedovshchina back into civilian life. Is it any surprise that they, these products of the 1970s and 1980s, have made the choice for their country that right arises out of force rather than the other way around and don’t see any reason to help their wives or anyone else?

             Such men not only offended their wives, triggering a dramatic rise in divorces initiated by women, but their behavior, including violence, alcoholism, and suicides, had other consequences as well, the Levada Center editors say. “The authority of the draft-based army fell sharply and above all in the eyes of women who did not want to give their sons to it anymore.”

            In the 1990s, these attitudes were reinforced by the very different requirements of employment in a de-industrializing economy where as employees of service or other sectors required cooperation and deference to customers who were held to be always right, statistics show.

            And as a result, ever more families sent their sons to higher educational institutions so that they could not only avoid dedovshchina by escaping the draft but keep or acquire values needed for the new society.  This rush to universities was not caused by a thirst for knowledge but rather a desire to avoid the negative impact of military service.

            These schools often did not provide high quality education but they did offer what the students and their mothers wanted: draft deferments and an escape from dedovshchina. And as a result, the new rising generation of men is less like its predecessor and more like what women say they want.

            That means that it is now “becoming easier for young men today to conform to the masculine ideal our women have carried with them through all their hardships, to be the way women want them to be” and thus making their congratulations of this men’s holiday more heartfelt.

            But it also means, the Levada Center editor suggest, that when this generation of men replaces the one now in power, it will bring with it very different values and that this will change Russian life in fundamental ways.

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