Leadership: The Hazing Horror in Russia

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March 18, 2006: The Russian Army is having a difficult time eliminating a serious hazing problem. Current proposed solutions include the creation of a large Military Police force. But many officers and veterans insist that MPs are not the solution.

The problem has been around for over half a century. It is the cause of low morale, poor discipline and increased difficulty getting people to join the army (either as volunteers or conscripts.) The hazing is most frequently committed by who have been in for at least a year, against the new recruits (who have not). This hazing developed after World War II, when Russia deliberately avoided developing a professional NCO corps. They preferred to have a larger force of officers take care of nearly all troop supervision. The NCOs that did exist were treated as slightly more reliable enlisted men, but given little real authority. Since officers did not live with the troops, slack discipline in the barracks gave rise to the vicious hazing and exploitation of junior conscripts by the senior ones. This led to very low morale, and a lot of suicides, theft, sabotage and desertions. Long recognized as a problem, no solution ever worked.

Even getting rid of conscripts may not eliminate hazing. Visits to other nations has convinced many Russian officers that the only solution is the development of a professional NCOs. Among other benefits, this would keep things under control in the barracks, because junior NCOs, with real authority, and a sense of responsibility, live there. The only problem with all of this is finding the money to pay for it. Volunteers cost a lot more than conscripts. Russia already uses some volunteers, especially for combat duty in places like Chechnya. These troops get paid on a scale equal to, and, with combat pay, above civilian wages. Conscripts get a few dollars a month in pay. The volunteers will also require better living conditions. As of last year, 60,000 elite army troops, in 42 units, are all volunteer.

An all volunteer force is also expected to save money as well. The hazing has been one of the basic causes of crimes in the Russian armed forces. The hazing accounts for 20 to 30 per cent of all soldier crimes. This has caused a suicide rate that is among the highest in the world. Poor working conditions in general also mean that Russian soldiers are nearly twice as likely to die from accidents, or suicide, than American soldiers.

With hazing, and the resulting poor morale and discipline gone, the military will also be able to keep more of its experienced and NCOs. Many of the best ones have been leaving the military, despite better pay and living conditions. All noted the problems, caused by hazing, as a major reason for getting out. One of the unspoken complaints was the pressure from above to cover up hazing problems, to make it all go away, at least on paper.

It's recognized that even more NCOs would not automatically eliminate the hazing, because all of these NCOs went through the hazing when they were recruits, and many tend to believe it "made them a soldier". But the Russians have noted that brutal hazing was eliminated from American officer academies in the last few decades. The lesson for Russia is that you have to have officers and NCOs who will carry out the orders to eliminate the hazing, no matter what their personal feelings on the matter. At the moment, many Russian politicians, and senior military people, don't believe Russian NCOs and junior officers are capable of carrying this out. But these young men do believe they can do it, and want the chance. All they need is some strong leadership from above.

 


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