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Eastern Europe

Russia’s Toy Soldiers

In NVO, historian Stanislav Ivanov asks how much “cadetization” of Russia’s youth is justified? Even a good thing like military education for the young, he says, shouldn’t be taken to extremes.

A 2012 Duma roundtable concluded that cadet, Suvorov, and Nakhimov schools weren’t well-regulated legally, and lacked unified teaching plans, programs, and content, according to Ivanov who works as a researcher at IMEMO. Standard uniforms, diplomas, and professional qualification documents were absent except in the case of MOD-run Suvorov and Nakhimov schools.

There are, Ivanov writes, 31 educational institutions for boys and girls operating under MOD auspices, more than 3,500 other cadet-type organizations (cadet corps or cadet schools under different ministries, departments, and RF territorial components), 150 specially-named educational institutions, and 51,000 “cadet classes.” The latter are a cadet-type program run in a civilian school. Junior ROTC on steroids.

Ivanov notes that the concept of cadet education is supposed to be a unified, targeted process of indoctrination and learning in the historical tradition of Russian cadet corps. He continues:

But the time has come to bring order to the chaotic and fragmented system of cadet education, to bring it into some kind of standard and legalization in the relevant law.

As a 1964 Suvorov graduate, Ivanov says he wants to analyze the pros and cons of the accelerating large-scale “cadetization” and militarization of Russia’s young generation.

The first nine Suvorov Military Schools opened in 1943 as part of the answer to thousands of pre-school and school-age children left without parents or relatives during the Great Patriotic War. Soon there were 22, and students included not just orphans, but sons of military officers and CPSU officials. In 1975, however, they were reduced to just eight Suvorov schools and one Nakhimov school.

The military schools fulfilled their purpose, according to Ivanov. Many students became generals, thousands became senior officers, and still others occupied important state posts. They served in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Chernobyl, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria. Current General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov graduated from the Kazan Suvorov Military School. The end of the Cold War, however, took away many reasons for conflict with the West. So Ivanov writes:

In these conditions, the process of such large-scale militarization of the childhood and adolescence of Russia’s young generation does not seem entirely understandable. In fact, the number of children, boys and girls dressed in military uniform compared with wartime and post-war times has already grown not dozens or hundreds, but a thousand times. Some have to live in closed military-training institutions, practically in barracks conditions. From my own experience, I know how it is separating children from their families, from their homeland, friends, comrades, national customs and traditions. All early limits on freedom of movement and personal life, barracks life and drill don’t contribute to the harmonious development of an individual. And there are serious doubts about the possibility of picking up hundreds of thousands of decent officers, warrant officers, civilian teachers and educators for such a number of cadets. Local authorities and chiefs of cadet schools don’t always correctly understand the specifics of the child’s worldview. So at the cadet induction ceremony in Zlatoust they showed young students techniques for dispersing mass protests in a demonstration provided by FSIN [Federal Prison Service] Spetsnaz. Officials called the performance “vivid and spectacular,” noting that it was conducted in the framework of the program on “patriotic indoctrination of civilian youth.”

Ivanov is referring to the video below.

As Novaya gazeta described, the exhibition was primarily for the “benefit” of the fifth grade “cadet class” in uniform at right.

There are, Ivanov continues, many important and necessary professions besides military or government service. And in addition to normal school programs, those who dream of a military career can study military history, visit military museums and firing ranges, or participate in military games, without being isolated from their families. It’s not obligatory to go around constantly in military uniform or live in a barracks. So many prosecutors, investigators, police, baliffs, and customs officials are wearing military uniforms today that it has lowered the uniform’s significance in Russian society to some degree. Obviously, veterans of war and military service don’t altogether accept the sight of juveniles bedecked with medals and badges received for participating in parades or other ceremonial events.

Ivanov concludes:

. . . the mass “cadetization” or militarization of Russia’s children today is not justified by anything and is rather temporary, the state is simply trying to simplify the indoctrination process. It seems officials have found in cadets a replacement for the Young Pioneers and Komsomol and suggest to society through the media and education system that enemies once again surround Russia and are preparing to conquer it from without. So they’ve dressed millions of little Russians in military uniforms and are trying to indoctrinate them in the spirit of devotion to the authorities.

If a law on cadet educational institutions were adopted, Ivanov says it should strictly limit them in number, regulate their programs, uniforms, and rules for wearing them. A more limited number of schools could even improve the quality of the students. Meanwhile, other “military-applied” activities could be upgraded so youth can participate without having to leave their families for the dorm or barracks of a cadet school.

A thought-provoking article. One wonders if some parents resort to cadet schools because of underfunding and poor conditions in civilian schools. Education, like health care, isn’t exactly a regime priority. Interesting too that Ivanov doesn’t even mention Putin’s 600,000-strong Yunarmiya including both cadets and many students not enrolled in cadet schools.

Russian Defense Policy

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