During 2017 FHM continued to fund the rent for a small office in Kazan, to allow the advice service “For Our Sons” to operate. Every month the centre held about 40 individual consultations for people who want to exercise their constitutional right to conscientious objection, and for conscripts or their relatives. The centre has helped with a variety of problems including difficulties applying for alternative service, and advice for conscripts about illegal conscription, bullying, money extortion or health issues.
One interesting case involved a tenth grader at a village school in the Arsky region. He did not wish to take military training classes, which are required for boys as part of OBZh — a health and safety course taught in all Russian schools. “I’m a pacifist. I think it’s just not right for me to assemble and disassemble automatic weapons. I don’t want to spend beautiful days in May playing war,” explained 17-year-old Kamil to the newspaper Evening Kazan.
This was the first case in Tatarstan where a student has openly refused to take part in the OBZh classes out of conviction. Up until now, if young people asked to be excused from the training, it was on grounds of poor health.
The school authorities threatened to mess up his permanent record if he did not take the training classes. He turned for help to the For Our Sons advice centre, who took up his case. But they needed to find a way to stay in contact with him during the long and complicated process of arguing with the authorities.
With financial support from FHM, the advice office purchased an inexpensive mobile phone and loaned it to Kamil. With its help they kept in touch while Kamil wrote applications and filed appeals. Meanwhile he did not report to the camp. He just kept going to school every day. And despite their earlier threats, the school administrators did not force the issue.
Instruction in preparedness for military service has been required for high school students, and also for those in pre-professional colleges or technical schools, since 2010, when it was established by order of the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Educational Sciences of the Russian Federation.
In the last couple of years there have been similar cases of protest in different parts of Russia. Human rights workers are developing a proactive strategy. Along with the weapons training, they would like high schools to develop alternative programmes in peace skills — like firefighting or first aid.
Photo: Kamil with the mobile phone loaned by For Our Sons