Ossetians Shun Military Service

There is no longer any stigma attached to draft-dodging in the once warlike republic of North Ossetia

Ossetians Shun Military Service

There is no longer any stigma attached to draft-dodging in the once warlike republic of North Ossetia

Despite their fearsome reputation for military prowess, the North Ossetians of today show little enthusiasm for their compulsory two years' service with the Russian federal army.


Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of young Ossetians seeking to avoid conscription has continued to rise.


And the trend was accelerated by the 1992 war against the Ingush when the Ossetians believe they were betrayed by Russian army units stationed in the republic.


During the Second World War, nearly a quarter of the population of North Ossetia (90,000 men) joined the ranks of the Red Army and around half of these were killed in action.


The North Caucasian republic became the scene of vicious battles as the German army attempted to drive south to the oil fields of Azerbaijan.


However, the German offensive ground to a halt in North Ossetia with a part of the republic occupied by the Nazis and a part remaining under Soviet rule.


During the fighting, 33 Ossetians won the Hero of the Soviet Union medal - the USSR's equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It was the highest number awarded per head of the population to any Soviet republic - a source of immense pride to North Ossetians ever since.


Although war veterans are still held in high esteem across the North Caucasus, the military traditions of North Ossetia have gradually been eroded.


Today, young men called up for military service employ a variety of dodges to avoid conscription. One of the most popular methods is to obtain a forged medical certificate exempting the bearer from military service. Those who cannot afford this luxury simply ignore their call-up papers and stay at home.


Acting on the appeals of the military commissariat, North Ossetia's prosecutor general has launched criminal investigations into dozens of cases of draft-dodging but it is thought unlikely any real action will be taken since there have been no legal precedents.


In fact, local society has become increasingly tolerant of young people who object to military service - when once they were treated as social outcasts.


Private enterprises across the republic are also prepared to turn a blind eye when would-be employees are unable to produce proof of military service - a factor which automatically excludes them from employment in state-run organisations.


Throughout the Russian Federation, the roots of this apparent pacifism are much the same - it is difficult to equate army service with patriotic duty, especially when the conflicts of the last decade have been exclusively internal.


Furthermore, the Russian military lost much of its credibility in North Ossetia during the 1992 clashes between ethnic Ossetians and Ingush settlers in the disputed Prigorodny region.


Most Ossetians expected the federal troops stationed nearby to come to their aid, arguing that the Ingush were the aggressors. However, during the first three days of the fighting, the army adopted a neutral stance and made no attempt to intervene.


When Russian units eventually moved into the disputed territory, they continued to trumpet their neutrality, despite widespread bloodshed in the mixed settlements. After the skirmishes were over, most North Ossetians argued that, since the Russian army had not defended them, it could not be considered their national army and many have maintained this position ever since.


Furthermore, the federal law on conscription is riddled with inconsistencies. Although the Russian Constitution grants conscientious objectors the right to choose an alternative form of public service, a specific law has yet to be adopted.


Valeri Dzutsev is a regular IWPR contributor


Support our journalists