Violence Experienced by Disabled Veterans of the Chechen wars : Some Exploratory Notes
Through interviews conducted in 2010 veterans of local wars in post-Soviet Russia claim to be the victims of violence on behalf of the State. They consider themselves as victims of negligence and bad treatement, often exposed to unnecessary risks on the battlefield. Once returned to civil life, they speak about rejection and abandonment. The symbolic, institutional, and social violence they describe appears to be particularly prevalant among disabled veterans, the group most in need of State support. Although the history of the Soviet Union demonstrates that lost wars lead to the social abandonment of veterans as much as victorious wars, the fate of disabled veterans seems to be conditioned by the cultural heritage of the Soviet period which glorifies a muscular body and favors work capacity as a criterion for citizenship.
Research Fields :Sociology
Pipss.org is grateful to Kevin Roberts who edited these notes.
« One shared assumption has been that the way a society treats soldiers will reflect its humanity by measuring the value that it places upon compassion ».
- 1 Catherine Merridale, « The Collective Mind: Trauma and Shell-Shock in Twentieth-Century Russia », J (...)
C. Merridale, “The Collective Mind”, 20001, p. 39.
1In July 2010, I conducted twelve interviews with veterans of the Chechan wars living in Moscow. Among those servicemen three former conscripts were invalids and three officers and kontraktniki (contract soldiers) had been wounded during the first or the second Chechen war ; they could have been granted invalid status but chose to hide their disability. I succeeded to meet all the officers and contract soldiers thanks to the help of the Moscow branch of the Boevoe Bratstvo organisation. The three disabled conscripts were met with the help of a former military journalist, at Krasnaia Zvezda and of General Nauman, director of the Cheshire House (dom Sheshira), the only philanthropic organization in Russia dedicated to helping disabled veterans of local wars.
- 2 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale . Les hospices pour grands mutilés de guerre dans l’Uni (...)
2During these interviews I was struck by the fact that veterans presented their experience in the Russian army in terms of violence directed against them by the military institution. They described several types of violence and their testimonies are corroborated by many other accounts published in recent years. I had already encountered the types of brutality and mistreatment they claim to have received in studies of Second World War veterans by Beate Fieseler, Catherine Merridale and Mark Edele2 and from testimonies of Afghan war veterans.
- 3 Cf for instance Militsiia mezhdu Rossiei i Chetchnei. Veterany konflikta v rossiiskom obshchestve, (...)
- 4 Z. Prilepine, Pathologies, Editions des Syrtes, septembre 2007 ; A. Babchenko, One Soldier's War in (...)
- 5 See http://russiaviolence.hypotheses.org/filmography/from-afghanistan-to-chechnya and http://russia (...)
3It is quite unusual to portray veterans of the Chechen wars as victims. Studies on the transfer of battlefield violence to civil society through returning veterans have been published these last few years3.. The Russian and Western press have also largely covered this phenomenon. Similarly many novels4 and films5 have been released in Russia since the beginning of the Chechen wars on this subject.
4But my purpose here is to start from the veterans’ experience as victims of violence and to try to explain this violence in the context of the social, political and military systems that soldiers are integrated in to.
5While veterans describe « neglect », « indifference », « bad treatment », « rejection » etc., I am using the word « violence » to cover four different forms:
Symbolical violence as defined by P. Bourdieu is a submission process in which the dominated perceive the social hierarchy as legitimate and natural. It is a collective belief that allows hierarchies to be maintained, for instance, command structures in war.
Physical violence: military violence including wounds and bodily injury.
- 6 J. Galtung, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research”, Journal of Peace Research 6, #3, 1969, pp. 167-1 (...)
Institutional violence: as defined by Johan Galtung (1969) refers to a violence that serves or results from institutional objectives6. This category includes aberrant orders, abusive or unjust exercise of power on behalf of commanding officers, or wrong doing on the part of medical staff. It also includes disengagement and the renunciation by the State of its responsibity for disabled veterans..
Social violence: in the context of disability, refers to marginalization as a consequence of the disengagement of the state towards this category of people
6War violence, physical violence during combat will not be here considered since it is not specific to Russia, although combat in Chechnya has been described by specialists as particulary brutal and violent compared, for instance, to Afghanistan . In fact several interviewed officers who had been in combat prior to Chechnya confessed that they would have needed one or two years to recover from their experiences on Chechen battlefields.
7However the interviewees never contested the violence they experienced or the risks of being injured or killed in the war. For them this was simply « part of the game ». Their primary complaint is that while they fulfilled their duty to the State, often at unecessary risk to themselves, the State has not fulfilled its obligation to them as veterans.
- 7 Aware of the level of violence inflicted on this category of servicemen, one of my interviewees, an (...)
8In a first part of this essay I will argue based on an analysis of data gathered from interviews that violence is present in many forms in the servicemen’s battlefield experience and at every stage of their experience of disability, through the healing process and return to civil life. Interviews show that veterans have faced violence and brutality at the hands of commanders, doctors, and their tutelary institution. Not only have they been exposed to the brutality of war and its physical violence but have they encountered « betrayal » (that is the word used), contempt, neglect, violence and disdain from doctors and from the State. Violence is particularly exerted on conscripts7.. Interviews conducted among veterans of the Chechen wars and the analysis of recently published studies also shows that disabled veterans seem to be much more likely to be targeted by this violence.
9Although the history of the Soviet Union illustrates that the outcome of wars does not influence the social abandonment of veterans, the fate of disabled veterans seems to be a particularily unhappy one, conditioned by a Soviet cultural heritage which glorifies a muscular body and favors work capacity as a criterion for citizenship. Therefore, in the second part of this essay I will argue that some of these manifestations of violence such as rejection, marginalization, disengagementcan be explained at least partially by a number of different factors including: the official denial of the war, an inclination to hide evidence of social policy failure and the cultural legacy of the Soviet period.
10Interviews show that in several cases disability is not only caused by war violence but by institutional violence such as commanders giving wrong orders as highlighted through the following extracts:
- 8 Interview with Sergei, Moscow, July 2010, http://pipss.revues.org/3992.
11- Sending conscripts to the battlefield with a minimal training is a form of violence encountered during the interviews: Sergei, 35 years old, was born in Novokouznetski, Kemerovo Oblast. He was conscripted during the first Chechen war he was sent to the front with one week of training. He was badly wounded during the storming of Grozny in 19948.
- 9 Interview with Aleksandr, Moscow, July 1010, http://pipss.revues.org/3993.
12- Officers knowingly allowing conscripts to use defective weapons: Aleksandr, 28 years old, was born in Kovrov, Vladimir Oblast. He volunteered to fight in the second campaign in Chechnya, serving as an artillery sergent.. A few weeks before his demobilization Kovrov’s gun was ordered to fire despite being in dire need of maintenance. He was assisted by four newly arrived volunteers, his old crew having already been discharged. . The gun exploded. Sergei was the only survivor9.
- 10 Starting from the second Chechen campaign (1999), conscripts are sent only with their consent to th (...)
- 11 Interview with Valentin, Moscow, July 2010, http://pipss.revues.org/3990.
13- Aberrant orders given under the influence of alcohol leading to accidents and injuries. Valentin is 27 years old. He chose to go to Chechnya deliberetely10. He loudly and clearly insists: « We were betrayed by our commanding officer ». Valentin and his fellow soldiers were ordered by their commander to pursue Chechen guerillas on February 23rd, Defender of the Fatherland day in Russia – a day many servicemen celebrate with alcohol. They were dropped by helicopter and told they would be picked up again three days later. But on the third day, his commanding officer, obviously still drunk, refused to pick them up. The only other route back for the patrol required them to cross an extensive Russian laid minefield of 12 km. Unwilling to send a helicopter, the commander ordered them across the minefield. Their sergent was the first to activate a mine. Valentin was the second, suffering severe leg and foot injuries. He also lost his right eye. Vision in his left eye is now also declining11.
14- A form of brutality by medical staff appears in several interviews: Valentin, mentioned above who tripped a mine was treated with improper surgical materials in a military hospital; the doctors using corroded needles instead of stainless steel needles to bind his bones together. . As a result of this medical negligence, Valentin developed severe complications and almost died. Sergei was a conscript who was sent to Chechnya during the first war against his will . He was trapped during the storming of Grozny and shot in the stomach. He lay unattended for several hours and was conscious enough to hear the medic say that there was no use doing anything for him as he would not survive until the next morning.
- 12 Interview with Albert, Boevoe Bratstvo Association, Moscow, 7 July, 2010.
15- Another form of symbolic violence on the part of the military uncovered through interviews is rather ironic and humorous. Rehabilitation in a State sanatorium is an alternative rarely offered to veterans. Most do not even know they are legally entitled to this service and never file an application for admission. Several of my interviewees mentioned that they were sent to a sanatorium (dom otdykha) in Abkhazia. Albert is one of them. Among other campaigns he fought in Chechnya as an officer, where he was wounded and sent, along with his wife and daughter, to the sanatorium in Abkhazia.Here a war was fought between 1992 and 1993 between Georgian government forcesand Abkhaz separatists. When he arrived at the sanatorium, Albert recalls that the around the medical complex was surrounded by signs « Beware of the mines », by destroyed houses and signs of gunfire and artillery. « From a walking distance towards Sotchi, there is a river Psu in which you could see the skeleton of a tank ». My interlocutor was well aware of the irony of the situation when he told me that story12.
- 13 Interview with Valentin, Moscow 13 juillet 2010, http://pipss.revues.org/3990.
16- The denial for psychological help is also highlighted in the interviews: during his stay in hospital which lasted more than a year and a half, Valentin was visited by a young female psychologist who asked him all sorts of questions and records their conversations. He says of her : « She exhausted me, she tormented me », and he recalls : « she left. Then two days later she showed up again and said – ‘you are all sick, you need to get help’ – and she never came back »13.
- 14 MosNews, 5 March 2005, Disabled Chechen war veteran returns medals to Russian Defense minister » ; (...)
- 15 “Court challenges unprecedented compensation award for Chechen war veteran”, RFE/RL Russia, Septemb (...)
17Another form of violence from the state is its renouncement of responsibility wounded soldiers. In January 2005, a regional court of the Orel region overruled the decision of a lower court compelling the Ministry of Defence to compensate Gennadi Uminsky, a military contractor gravely wounded during the battle of Grozny during the first Chechen war14. Cut off in a cave, his section remained isolated there until the end of the war. Left for dead, Uminsky and his companions survived, although they were officially declared “killed in combat”. After a year in hospital he was released, and classed as an “invalid of the second group”, implying that he would be in need of constant medical supervision. After having tried in vain to obtain a pension from the Ministry of the Defence, Uminsky went to court. By annulling the lower court judges’ decision, not only did the court of Orel release the Defence Ministry from any responsibility for Uminsky but it also set a disturbing precedent. According to the judges’ decision, no link could be established between the Federal Army and the wounds received by the plaintiff. By this reasoning no compensation could be awarded. Faced with the unwillingness of the Defence Ministry or the Ministry of Internal Affairs to pay pensions or compensation for combat veterans, other cases went to the courts. Some plaintiffs demanding compensation for war wounds were asked to provide proof that the Federal Army was responsible. In the end, they were told to request compensation from the Chechen combatants, those in fact responsible for the wounds. On the basis of these arguments, decisions favourable to veterans were revoked on appeal, by the state15.
- 16 Cf. A. Le Huérou & E. Sieca-Kozlowski, « A Chechen Syndrom ? Russian Veterans of the Chechen War an (...)
18The reaction of the court of Orel is symptomatic of the state’s incapacity to recognize, to politically assume and take financial responsibility for the consequences of a conflict with no formal status. This brings in a new element into consideration– the idea that veterans themselves are responsible for their acts in war and that the state cannot be held responsible for their resulting suffering16. Valentin was told bymedical authorities that his loss of eyesight due to an exploding mine could not be linked to his service in the Federal Army. Therefore he was ineligible to be treated in a military hospital nor would his expenses not be met by the State.
Delegating Social and Medical Care for the Disabled to Private Networks (family, friends) and to Philanthropic Organisations
19The economic crisis of the 1990s led Yeltsin’s government to neglect the social services and to transfer the economic burden of the army to the local authorities. Regional inequalities resulted in some local authorities being able to provide assitance for disabled veterans while others were unable or unwilling to become involved.
20Progressively, the problem of caring for veterans has been delegated to associations and private funds. Pensions granted by the state are not sufficient to cover medication, protheses, wheelchairs etc.; therefore associations and personal networks are solicited to compensate for the failure of the state.
- 17 Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, # 24(339), 18-24 juillet 2003, p. 1. Interview du président de l’ass (...)
- 18 V. Koval’kov « Tchinovnich’iw « zabota » ob invalidakh boevikh deistvii. Oni porteriali zdorov’e, z (...)
21Veterans organization strive to get funding for medical equipment and medication as well as equipping apartments for use by disabled veterans17. In the December 2004 issue of Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, the case of a disabled veteran from Afghanistan is mentioned. This veteran is able to live and survive only thanks to the support of his former comrades18. The man lost his sight and his two legs as a result of his service in Afghanistan.
22In 2003, The All Russia Organization of Invalids of Afghanistan (joined also by Chechen veterans) conducted a survey among its members and found that 46% of them have an income only sufficient to meet basic needs; 90,7% have a difficult time finding a job; 87,7% have no professional qualification for use in civilian life; 50,7% have no apartment and will have to wait several years before getting one; 91,4% have receive no monetary allowance whatsoever. Half of the respondents had never been to hospital or to a sanatorium despite having obtained invalidity status.
- 19 I.V. Obraztsov, Rossiiskaia Armiia ot Afganistana do Chechnii, Moscow, Natsionalnyi Institut Imeni (...)
23From 1990 to 2005 the Center for Sociological Reseach of the Ministry of Defense conducted a series of annual studies showing that war invalids constituted the most underpriviledged citizens of Russia19 and that 26,6% are forced to live with parents or relatives; 35,2 % have been waiting for housing for more than five years; and, for the majority, 79,6%, their disibility pension is their only means of subsistance
24The disengagement of the state is striking when examining the psychological and medical rehabilitation results of the study: only 5.8% of disabled invalids receive financial support for civil life rehabilitation; 5.2% are cared for in military hospitals; 4.3% in convalescent homes 1,5% receive help in psychological and medical centers in their district; while more than 80% do not receive any medical and psychological help from the government. As Sergei, a conscript who served during the first Chechen campaign, says:
- 20 Interview with Sergei, Moscow, July 2010, http://pipss.revues.org/3992.
25« The soldier who is going to war to serve his country has to give up his health, although he would like only to adapt and find himself in a social environment, but the state does not want this. You are left to your fate, and you are not needed by anyone. You are given a miserable allowance on which you are supposed to live. When my mother found out how much I was given, she burst into tears […] and then she said : « Sergei I will send that money to the Kremlin, to Yeltsin with the following note : - take this money and just give him back his health »20.
- 21 Interview with General Nauman, Moscow, Dom Sheshira, July 2010.
26It is no surprise that today the only rehabilitation home for invalids of local wars in Russia (Dom Sheshira) is a philanthropic organization which has struggled for its survival since its creation in the 1980s21.
- 22 Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, 25-31, October 2002, pp.1 and 8.
- 23 “Voina uchastvuet vo mne”, Novaia Gazeta, # 22, March 29, 2007 ; Rossiia i SSSR v voinakh XX veka: (...)
- 24 In ten years, 620,000 men were sent to Afghanistan, 15,400 were killed, 39,000 wounded, and 270 rep (...)
- 25 “Voina uchastvuet vo mne”, op.cit.
- 26 S. Troshin, “Traditsii deval’vatsii ne podlezhat; S pervogo soveshchaniia veteranskogo aktiva vooru (...)
27There is no official data on the number of victims in the Russian Army for the Chechen wars22. Although veterans associations estimate that the counting of the missing and dead in Afghanistan is not finished, official figures that have nonetheless been published (listing the number of dead, wounded, missing, invalids by category, etc)23 and tend to coincide with Western estimates24. The situation is completely different for the campaigns in Chechnya: here the only estimates are those made by Russian military journalists or Western military specialists. It is estimated that 1,800,000 men have served in this theater, without counting the missions of special or combined units (with men from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSB and other « power » ministries)25. The rare figures published by the official military press encompass all veterans, from the Great Patriotic War to the present, and estimate the figures at a total of one million, of whom 117,000 are veterans of the Great Patriotic War26. Such enormous discrepancies make it impossible to properly evaluate the needs of disabled veterans. The absence of statistics testifies to the total disregard by the State for the veterans and allows us to conclude that the interviewees’ experiences are not isolated cases.
28It is not possible to understand State disengagement towards disabled veterans without first exploring the state relationship to the war, to policy failure, to handicap and finally to work from which disabled veteran are sometimes de facto excluded.
- 27 See the chapter “Subjected to war: military brotherhood in search of recognition” in the doctoral t (...)
- 28 This could well explain the underdevelopment of psychology and psychiatry in the MVD structure at a (...)
- 29 N. Danilova, « Veterans’ Policy in Russia: a Puzzle of Creation », Issue 6 :7, 2007, The Journal of (...)
29One cannot discuss the issue of Chechen veterans without examining State policy towards them. The status of veterans and the social policy concerning them depends to a great extent on how the state defines war: if it refuses to call a conflict a “war”, then the war does not exist and there are no veterans. The official aim of the first Chechen conflict was to “restore constitutional order” and the second, beginning in 1999, was fought as a “struggle against terrorism”. It was only in 2002 that Chechnya was added to the list of “operations outside Russian borders”, granting veterans a legal status, along with rehabilitation measures and financial compensation. As noted by Sergei Oushakin, prior to this amendment, veterans of Chechnya were handed documents in which they were categorised as invalids of the Great Patriotic War27. The “absence” of war led to the denial of the existence of veterans and their sufferings28, and therefore a belated response to the needs of this population29.
- 30 R. Dale, « The Valaam Myth and the fate of Leningrad’s Disabled Veterans », The Russian Review, # 7 (...)
- 31 In Kazakhstan, then on the Valaam Island, Cf. Fieseler quoted by Philips / Fieseler 2006, p. 51.
30The inclination to hide social policy failures could also explain the disengagement of the state. There is evidence of such a move in the recent past: the historian S. Philips argues that the Soviet state has been reluctant to admit the existence of disabled veterans because it was a recognition of the failure of its social policy. From the 1920s to the aftermath of WWII, the state tended to hide those elements, the crippled veterans, that tarnished the image ot the Soviet Union as a nation free from social problems. In 1947, the cities were cleared of beggars (most of them veterans). These unfortunates were allegedly30 sent to Valaam Island in Karelia. The Samovary – men without legs and arms – died there during the following winter in terrible conditions. Working Camps were created for invalids of the civil war, WWI and WWII31.
- 32 C. Merridale, Ivan’s war, op.cit.
- 33 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale », op. cit.
31During spring 1946 the state counted 2.75 million disabled veterans who were eligible to receive medical care but there was a deficit of doctors and medication32. In 1948, there were 1,521,000 disabled veterans of whom 350,000 belonged to the two first catégories of invalids therefore incapable of working. 29,000 belonged to the first category requiring permanent or constant care33.
- 34 S. Philips, “ There are no invalids in the USSR!: a missing chapter in the new disability history ” (...)
32A more recent account of the state relationship to disability was made by a journalist who was in Moscow in 1980 on the occasion of the Olympic games supports the social policy failure hypothesis. The journalist asked an official organizer of the Olympic games if the Soviet Union would participate to the paralympic games that would take place in Great Britain the same year. The Russian official responded « there are no invalids in the USSR ! »34.
33Some of the interviewees, when complaining to their fit companions about their impossibility to find work in their physical condition heard themselves told: “Well, stay at home” (“Nu, sidi doma”).
- 35 M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of World War II: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society, 1941-199 (...)
34Post-Soviet Russia has inherited a culture which glorifies heroes and muscular bodies35. Post-Soviet cinema and State patriotic programs glorify heroes of Russian history. The persistance of a heroic, militaristic conception of masculinity is still perceptible in today’s Russia. One need only look Putin’s press photographs flying military planes, riding horses, firing weapons etc.
- 36 G. Mosse, L’image de l’homme. L’invention de la virilité moderne, Paris, Editions Abbeville, 1997.
35The masculine model lauded by the Soviet élite in the 1920s and 1930s isvery traditional and closely resembles the pre-revolutionary model. It is a vivid image of the soldier-hero, a masculine image of the highest degree. This model was born inside the military institution. It is this masculine ideal that has endured throughouth the Soviet period to the present day: It emphasizes virility, force, physical endurance, sacrifice and courage. In Russia, as in Western Europe, virility is caracterised by the contemplation of the body as the physical expression of superior moral qualities (cf. Mosse)36. This is the opposite image to that presented by a disabled war veteran.
- 37 B. Polivoï, Un homme véritable, Les éditeurs français réunis. 1946. The story of a real man 1952 an (...)
36Very few publications depict disabled veterans but when they do, they tend to depict veterans who are able to overcome the trauma In Ostrovski’s book, How steal was tempered (1936), the hero Korchagin is blind and paralysed but finds the strength to live even if life is unbearable. The novel and the film « the story of a real man »37 are based on a true story: the story of pilot Alexei Maresev (1916-2001) who is shot down in combat against the Germans and badly wounded.. Despite suffering two broken legs and severe burns the hero crawls 40 km in 18 days on his knees and elbows to reach the Soviet lines. After reaching safety his legs are amputated. Equiped with protheses he asks to go back to combat again. He will shoot down seven more planes bringing his number of aerial victories to eleven.
- 38 Militsiia mezhdu Rossiei i Chechnei. op. cit.
37An exploration of the representation of disabled veterans in contemporary movies and literature would be necessary to feed this hypothesis. As far as newspapers are concerned, and to my knowledge, there are very few accounts of the fate of disabled veterans of the Afghan war and none from the Chechen campaigns. As the Demos Association has demonstrated in the course of its study on police veterans of the Chechen war38, the subject remains taboo in the Russian media.
38In short the State does not leave any space for suffering, nor does the media. As the veterans of WWII experienced only heroic songs and accounts were acceptable after the war.
39It is the same norms of virility internalized in military culture, that prevent officers from having their handicap recognized. This culture of heroism and masculine toughness makes it difficult for veterans to seek help, or to see themselves as something other than a waste. As noted earlier, several of the officers interviewed confessed that they could have been granted disability status but that they never wanted, or dared, to ask for it.
40Finally, the evolution of disability status through Russian history helps us to understand the legal status of disability in contemporary Russia and consequently provides an explanation for the marginalization of disabled veterans.
41Disability status has been become closely tiedto work capacity. Lacking this capacity, disabled veterans are confronted with an archaic perception of disability which places work as the criterion for citizenship.
- 39 S. D. Phillips, “There Are No Invalids in the USSR!”, op. cit.
42The term invalid first appears in Russia during the 19th century. During thr Tsarist period the term is used mainly for soldiers and servicemen without any negative connotation. In the 1800 Dal dictionary, the invalid is a man who has served, a revered warrior; unable to serve anymore because of his wounds or because of physical damage, it is the one who is worn out. After the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of the Soviet state, the meaning of the word « invalid » changes and is used to designate Soviet citizens who have lost their ability to work. The definition of invalid therefore becomes « loss of the ability to work ». There is a functional approach to disability: the social usefulness of the citizens is measured in term of potential role in the production process39. It is therefore expected that citizens be engaged in a paid work to be socially useful.
- 40 Cf. S. Philips ibid. and B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale ». op.cit.
- 41 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale », ibid.
43The legal status of disability is given by a group of doctors who40 before 1932 evaluated the level of loss of the work capacity, and after 1932, evaluated remaining work capacity. That same year a classification system for the disabled was introduced containing three categories. This system is therefore constructed according to the loss of work ability and not according to the care needed by the invalid41.
1st category : total incapacity to work and in need of permanent care
2nd category : total incapacity to work but no need for permanent care
3rd category: partial incapacity to work, able to work in a less qualified job than the one before the war, easier conditions but lesser salary
44This classification system is still in force today.
- 42 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale », op. cit.
- 43 S. Philips, op. cit.
- 44 Cf. B. Fieseler’s presentation at the WWII conference in May 2011 in Paris.
45From 1932 to the aftermath of the Second World War, the rehabilitation measures for disabled veterans were centered on production, employment and work placement (trudostroistvo). Pensions aim to compensate for the loss of income rather than physical damage. These pensions are relatively high compared to others but they are still inferior to the salary of an industrial worker. During the war, « doma internaty » were createdto provide work for the large number of invalids. Their aim was very pragmatic: they were meant to stimulate economic capacity to support the war effort. The wellbeing of the invalids themselves was immaterial. Once reeducation was over, the members of the internaty were to be requalified in the third category and return to work42. Although their main objective was professional rehabilitation, these institutions did not offer any professional training. The idea that appeared in the 1930s, and we will see still perceptible today, (cf. Dom Sheshira), was that work had healing vertues. Work itself was understood a a rehabilitation tool. This idea was put into practice with millions of invalids. According to S. Philips, in 1941 work is considered as a right for disabled people, but new regulations turn it into « a duty » and later on « a compulsary measure »43. The doma internat) reinforced the image of the Soviet Union as a state caring for the well being of its citizens bereft of social problems It is no surprise that very few images of Great Patriotic War invalids exist. They were, and remain, excluded from the representation of the war44.
- 45 Interview with General Nauman, Moscow, Dom Sheshira, July 2010.
46The idea of work as a healing tool appears to resonate in today’s Russia. When I asked General Nauman, director of Dom Sheshira if there were any psychologists in his intitution he did not even consider replying to the question, but a few minutes later told me, as if there were non connection to the question, – « these boys need to go back to work ».45
- 46 On this subject, see the remarkable work by M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of World War II: A Popular Mo (...)
47It is certainly no coincidence either if the Russian state, in the framework of the current state patriotic program offered the veterans a possibility to express their devotion to the state by working voluntarily in exchange for the State reconsidering their needs. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War found themselves in the same position weeks after they were demobilised, when government aid dwindled and official propaganda exhorted them to get back to work as soon as possible46.
48Two ideas can be found in the state message: work has healing virtues and veterans have duties, even debts, to the state.
49As if it were not enough to have risked their lives in the service of the homeland, veterans discovered on their return that having a place in society was linked to continued service. Social benefits and potential state aid are presented as a reward for additional service.
50Over the years, the military press has continued to refer to the additional obligations of veterans:
- 47 S. Troshin, “Traditsii deval’vatsii ne podlezhat; s pervogo soveshchaniya veteranskogo aktiva vooru (...)
“Veterans must take part in the organisation of special days for conscripts, in competitions for the best preparation of citizens for military service, in the organisation of the draft in municipal establishments and schools. They must to the best of their ability aid ROSTO (DOSAAF) (organisation that prepares young people for military service) in the training of youth for military service. They must organise the implementation of the State Programme in the Armed Forces “Patriotic Education of Citizens of the Russian Federation, 2006-2010”. It is also evident that they must contribute to the preparation and organisation of manifestations linked to the 65thanniversary of various events of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.”47.
51…while remaining extremely evasive on fundamental issues:
- 48 Ibid.
“Concerning the most serious social problems, the proposals emanating from veterans associations […] will be generalised and transmitted for examination to the federal organs of executive power and to the military authorities concerned. Decisions have already been adopted, and some proposals are in the process of being adopted, as for example the allocation of indemnities for the purchase of food rations”48.
52As far as disabled veterans are concerned, being unable to be useful to the state they are not included in those state patriotic project and therefore not promised any examination of their situation.
53Most of the disabled veterans interviewed have internalized the idea that they cannot be useful to society and describe themselves as the waste:
Sergei « […] When I came back home, I had a strong inclination for alcohol. I drank really a lot. For a year I kept drinking. My mother tried to make me stop : « Sergei stop, your health is not good, do you wish it to worsen? » You feel completely rejected, abandoned to your fate. You are not useful to anyone, you are similar to waste… » ( ty ne nuzhen, ty – otrabotannyi material, otkhody…)
Valentin when questioned “Why do you think in Russia the state refuses to care for its disabled veterans? Do you think disability is perceived as a weakness?” answered: « I don’t think it the the case only for Russia […]. And I don’t think it is a weakness. Why does Russian state refuse to care about us ? Because they don’t want to, that’s why. Maybe we are not indispensable. To Iuri Ivanovich [Nauman, director of the Cheshire House], apparently we are useful, that’s why he accepted us. But for the state it is not the case. They probably see us as the scum of society ».
54Although renewed and continuous violence towards veterans is observable throughout the Soviet period from WWII to Chechnya disabled veterans seem to be specifically targeted for rejection, abandonment and disengagement. Because they cannot be part of the production process, due to their diminished work capacity, the debt of the Rodina-Mat’ (Motherland) is reversed : the protective Rodina-Mat’ becomes a rejecting mother. The great sacrifice of body and health made by disabled veterans is not worthy of State gratitude. Fighting against another form of violence, social marginalization, remains their last battle.
1 Catherine Merridale, « The Collective Mind: Trauma and Shell-Shock in Twentieth-Century Russia », Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, # 1, Special Issue: Shell-Shock, January 2000, pp. 39-55.
2 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale . Les hospices pour grands mutilés de guerre dans l’Union soviétique des années 1940 », Cahiers du monde russe, # 2-3, Vol 49, 2008, pp. 419-440 ; C. Merridale, Ivan’s war : Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945, London, Faber and Faber, 2005 ; M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of World War II: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society, 1941-1991, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, November 2008.
3 Cf for instance Militsiia mezhdu Rossiei i Chetchnei. Veterany konflikta v rossiiskom obshchestve, Demos, Moscou, 2007 and A. Le Huérou & E. Sieca-Kozlowski, « A Chechen Syndrom ? Russian Veterans of the Chechen War and the Transposition of War Violence to Society », in N. Duclos (Ed.), War Veterans in Postwar Situations. Chechnya, Serbia, Turkey, Peru and Côte d’Ivoire, Palgrave Macmillan 2012, pp. 25-51.
4 Z. Prilepine, Pathologies, Editions des Syrtes, septembre 2007 ; A. Babchenko, One Soldier's War in Chechnya, Portobello Books Ltd, 2008.
6 J. Galtung, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research”, Journal of Peace Research 6, #3, 1969, pp. 167-191.
7 Aware of the level of violence inflicted on this category of servicemen, one of my interviewees, an officer,founded an organization to help conscripts returning from the Chechen war. Interview with Gennadi, officer, founder of the « Rusish Organization ». Boevoe Bratstvo, Moscow, 8 July 2010.
10 Starting from the second Chechen campaign (1999), conscripts are sent only with their consent to the battlefield.
12 Interview with Albert, Boevoe Bratstvo Association, Moscow, 7 July, 2010.
14 MosNews, 5 March 2005, Disabled Chechen war veteran returns medals to Russian Defense minister » ; For more details on this case, see the chapter “The patriotism of despair: national memory, symbolic economics, and communities of loss in a Russian province” in the doctoral thesis of S. Oushakine, op.cit., pp. 1-4.
15 “Court challenges unprecedented compensation award for Chechen war veteran”, RFE/RL Russia, September 29, 2003.
16 Cf. A. Le Huérou & E. Sieca-Kozlowski, « A Chechen Syndrom ? Russian Veterans of the Chechen War and the Transposition of War Violence to Society », op. cit.
17 Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, # 24(339), 18-24 juillet 2003, p. 1. Interview du président de l’association (OO) des vétérans des spetsnaz et des spetzpodrazdelenie « alpha-vympel—SBP ».
18 V. Koval’kov « Tchinovnich’iw « zabota » ob invalidakh boevikh deistvii. Oni porteriali zdorov’e, zashchishaia Rodinu, a ona ne khochet ikh zashchitit’ », Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, # 46, 3-9 December 2004, p. 1+2,
19 I.V. Obraztsov, Rossiiskaia Armiia ot Afganistana do Chechnii, Moscow, Natsionalnyi Institut Imeni Ekaterina Velokoi, 1997.
21 Interview with General Nauman, Moscow, Dom Sheshira, July 2010.
22 Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, 25-31, October 2002, pp.1 and 8.
23 “Voina uchastvuet vo mne”, Novaia Gazeta, # 22, March 29, 2007 ; Rossiia i SSSR v voinakh XX veka: statisticheskoe issledovanie, Moscow, Olma-Press, 2001; interview with Ruslan Aushev, New Times, July 2005.
24 In ten years, 620,000 men were sent to Afghanistan, 15,400 were killed, 39,000 wounded, and 270 reported missing. We also have figures for the number of invalids, according to the various categories. See M. Galeotti, Afghanistan, The Soviet Union’s Last War, London, Frank Cass, 1995, chapter 6, “Veteran Society”.
25 “Voina uchastvuet vo mne”, op.cit.
26 S. Troshin, “Traditsii deval’vatsii ne podlezhat; S pervogo soveshchaniia veteranskogo aktiva vooruzhennykh sil RF”, VPK voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er, # 14(180), 11-17 April 2007; http://www.vpk-news.ru/print.asp?pr_sign=archive.2007.180.articles.army_s02
27 See the chapter “Subjected to war: military brotherhood in search of recognition” in the doctoral thesis of Sergei Oushakine, entitled The Patriotism of Despair: National Memory, Symbolic Economics, and Communities of Loss in a Russian Province, New York, Columbia University, 2005.
28 This could well explain the underdevelopment of psychology and psychiatry in the MVD structure at a time when policemen were sent in numbers to Chechnya (the term spetsificheskie sluzhebno-boevye zadachi appears only in 2008 in the MVD literature).
30 R. Dale, « The Valaam Myth and the fate of Leningrad’s Disabled Veterans », The Russian Review, # 72, April 2013, pp. 260-284.
31 In Kazakhstan, then on the Valaam Island, Cf. Fieseler quoted by Philips / Fieseler 2006, p. 51.
32 C. Merridale, Ivan’s war, op.cit.
33 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale », op. cit.
35 M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of World War II: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society, 1941-1991, op. cit.
36 G. Mosse, L’image de l’homme. L’invention de la virilité moderne, Paris, Editions Abbeville, 1997.
37 B. Polivoï, Un homme véritable, Les éditeurs français réunis. 1946. The story of a real man 1952 and the eponymous film by Alexander Stolper 1946.
38 Militsiia mezhdu Rossiei i Chechnei. op. cit.
39 S. D. Phillips, “There Are No Invalids in the USSR!”, op. cit.
40 Cf. S. Philips ibid. and B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale ». op.cit.
41 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale », ibid.
42 B. Fieseler, « La protection sociale totale », op. cit.
43 S. Philips, op. cit.
44 Cf. B. Fieseler’s presentation at the WWII conference in May 2011 in Paris.
45 Interview with General Nauman, Moscow, Dom Sheshira, July 2010.
46 On this subject, see the remarkable work by M. Edele, Soviet Veterans of World War II: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society, 1941-1991, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, November 2008.
47 S. Troshin, “Traditsii deval’vatsii ne podlezhat; s pervogo soveshchaniya veteranskogo aktiva vooruzhennykh sil RF”, VPK voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er, # 14/180, 11-17 april 2007.
48 Ibid.Top of page
Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, « Violence Experienced by Disabled Veterans of the Chechen wars : Some Exploratory Notes », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 14/15 | 2013, Online since 22 July 2013, connection on 30 March 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/4045Top of page
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