Alternatives to Violence

In Russia, as in other societies, there is a great need for training in alternatives to violence. When he spoke about Friends House Moscow at Yearly Meeting Gathering 2009, Sergei Nikitin, Director of the Amnesty office in Russia, showed two telling pictures.

One shows tanks on the streets of Moscow for a recent military parade, and the other shows ruined buildings in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, the location of fierce fighting in the 2008 war between Russian and Georgian forces.

Violence is a serious problem in the army, where there is a culture of bullying of new conscripts by their seniors, leading to injuries and fatalities. And an understanding of how to manage conflict can contribute much to personal relations in workplaces and families.

Friends House Moscow is currently supporting training in Alternatives to Violence. We set up the Moscow Council of AVP and we pay for a part-time co-ordinator who runs AVP Russia. Staff and board members take an active part.

Several AVP workshops have been held for conscripts in the army. Feedback shows that the young men found this work useful in helping them deal with the difficult situation they find themselves in. Several said that the workshops allowed them to ‘remain human’.

Sample of feedback from one-day basic-level workshop with conscripts, 2008

Tea break during training for soldiers in the Moscow region

1. What did you like?
2. What did you not like, what would you want to change?
3. What do you think of the group work, what were the group dynamics?
4. Your ideas about the future?
5. How are you going to apply what you learnt in the workshop?

1. I liked the AVP philosophy. Although I only heard about it for the first time today, it made me feel better, it took me into my deep thoughts when I hadn’t been there before. I felt I was inside myself, I threw out all the negative energy and thoughts, and I felt so good! This philosophy made me understand how I relate to other people, how I talk with them, it cleaned me of all the negative emotions and only left the good ones.
2. No, I liked everything, the only thing – you could make the issues and programmes broader, deeper.
3. The group worked well, although we hadn’t done these exercises before, there was just a bit of embarrassment.
4. I haven’t got any at the moment, but I will have.
5. I can use it for my army friends, I can also run the exercises.

AVP Ukraine runs workshops in prisons

AVP in prisons is an exciting development. Some comments from the young men:

• “They used to tell me what the questions were and I wouldn’t give any answers. Now it’s the other way around, I want to talk because I found answers to questions of my own.”
• “I liked the games and enjoying ourselves. Even more I liked spending time with grown-ups who were concerned about us. It was hard to answer some of the questions, but it was good to spend the time together.”
• “I liked your understanding and your way of relating. It was easy for me and I felt good about myself. I would like another session and more time. I don’t know how to think about the future.”

AVP is running in Moscow and the Moscow region, Lipetsk, Dzerzhinsk, the Leningrad region, in Ukraine (Odessa, L’viv) and Lithuania (Vilnius). We are hoping to start up AVP in South Ossetia. One of the most effective features of AVP is that participants who attend all three stages of workshop (basic, advanced and training for trainers) can train more facilitators and so the project has a potentially unlimited capability for growth. All these regional groups developed as a result of the first workshops held in Moscow in 1995.

You have the right not to serve in the army

Information for men called up for military service

The right to conscientious objection is not well known in Russia, and Friends House Moscow funds distribution of a newsletter, produced by German Alyotkin, a conscientious objector from Kazan, which spreads information and supports Russian COs. It contains articles about the laws on alternative national service, activities of alternative servicemen across Russia, alternative national service and CO issues in other European countries, plus articles about pacifism. Booklets informing COs about their rights to alternative service have increased public awareness of the issue but there is a need for more information and for a sense of a common concern among the isolated groups of COs scattered across Russia. The newsletter, called Al’ternativshchik, is flourishing and over 20 issues have come out.

Raising awareness of alternatives to violence
A group of social activists supported by Friends House Moscow set up the Video Activist project some time ago in Kazan, Tatarstan. They screen free films such as American History X and V for Vendetta for local young people. Debate and discussion of the films are encouraged. We hear now that the landlord of the building where the meetings were held was instructed by Department E of the Kazan Militia (Extremism) not to allow the group to meet there. The group sees this as a positive sign that they are being noticed, and it is good to report that they have found a new meeting place.

The Schools’ Reconciliation Project (Moscow) is training children and teachers in mediation skills. Rustem Maksudov and Anton Konovalov, who have over ten years experience with mediation programmes, are running school-based programmes. Students are trained to conduct meetings as mediators. The aim is to decrease tensions and use peaceful procedures to resolve conflicts. The children gain new experiences – volunteering, cooperation and civic activity. Workshops have been held for teachers, and an Association of Mediators and Supervisors of School Reconciliation Services started up in 2009.

Mediation workshop in school