Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 136

Tatarstan plans to adopt Russia’s first law allowing young men eligible for military service to perform an alternative civilian service instead. The Monitor’s correspondent in the Volga region reports that, at its session on July 10, Tatarstan’s parliament adopted in the first reading a bill guaranteeing the right of Tatarstani youths of draft age to refuse to serve in the armed forces. (See also Russky telegraf, July 14)

Russia’s 1993 constitution requires citizens of the Russian Federation to perform military service “as laid down by federal law,” but goes on to allow them the right to perform alternative civilian service in the event that their “convictions or religious beliefs are at odds with the performance of military service.” As yet, however, there is no federal legislation on the issue. Conscripts do not, in practice, have the right to opt out of military service. Nor does federal legislation appear likely to be adopted any time soon. Tatarstan’s parliament is therefore proceeding in a legal vacuum which could put it at loggerheads with the federal authorities in the future.

Tatarstan’s bill calls alternative service both “a special type of state service” and “a socially beneficial activity.” Alternative service, it states, will not involve any kind of “military activity, taking of oaths, bearing of arms or participating in the manufacture or maintenance of weapons.” Those who choose alternative service will serve in Tatarstan and have the right to continue their education at night school or by correspondence. The sting in the tail is that alternative service will be longer than regular military service–eighteen months for those with higher education and thirty-six months for those without. It is expected to involve working in homes for the elderly, psychiatric hospitals, morgues and other institutions where many ordinary people are loath to take jobs.

Tatarstan’s new law is expected to be enacted toward the end of this year. Residents of Tatarstan and neighboring Bashkortostan already enjoy the right to do their military service inside their own republics. While this right is not always observed, it is a privilege that makes the two Volga republics the envy of other Russian provinces.