Crimean children take oath to serve as friends of the Russian FSB
Schoolchildren from Russian-occupied Kerch and neighbouring areas have taken part in new ceremonies highlighting the dangerous militarization that Russia has brought to Crimea and its attempts to indoctrinate children and young people. During one of these ceremonies, children, some of them quite young, were initiated into so-called ‘military-patriotic clubs’ entitled ‘Young Friend of Border Guards’ (the border service being part of the Russian Security Service or FSB). The events were attended by the management of the Border Service; war veterans, city deputies and members of ‘Yunarmia’, the youth army linked to Russia’s Defence Ministry.
As well as the above event on 13 October, the Crimean Human Rights Group is also aware of a ceremony the following day in Kerch where children were ‘sworn in’ as cadets to the Gryphon ‘Cossack military-patriotic club’.
On 19 October, a monument to Cossacks who fought against Ukraine in Donbas and Crimea is to be unveiled in Simferopol at the so-called ‘Avenue of Cossack glory’ on the territory of School Lyceum No. 10. Cossack groups in Crimea were part of the notorious paramilitary ‘self-defence’ units who worked together with Russian soldiers to secure control of the peninsula. Russia is now actively trying to whitewash, or even glorify, these highly dubious units, as part of its attempt to legitimize its occupation of Crimea. It was the 'self-defence’ paramilitaries who were involved in the abduction and horrific murder of Reshat Ametov and the torture of other pro-Ukrainian activists, and who are believed to have been behind many of the disappearances since Russia’s invasion.
In eastern Ukraine, they have also been responsible for grave crimes, and their glorification before schoolchildren is deeply disturbing.
The Crimean Human Rights Group points out that such actions help to inculcate a cult of war and tolerance for violence. By engaging children in paramilitary and enforcement structures of the occupying state, Russia is encouraging an aggressive attitude to states and peoples who do not support its so-called ‘Russian world’ doctrine and aggressively pushing a ‘Russian identity’ on occupied territory.
Russia’s imposition of conscription in occupied Crimea is in flagrant violation of international law. According to Article 51 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, “The Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. No pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted”.
Such conscription constitutes a war crime, as do the reported attempts to pressurize Ukrainians into renouncing their citizenship, as though that would make their conscription any the more legal.
A campaign has been underway over at least the last year to enlist Crimean children into the Russian Defence Ministry’s ‘Youth Army’ [Yunarmia], a formation which has been likened to Hitlerjugend and other “formations in which young people became tools of totalitarian regimes in Europe”. Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu has quite openly stated that a major goal of the Yunarmia movement is to popularize military ideology and foster a special bond “between young Russians and the army”.
There has been mounting focus on so-called ‘military – patriotic’ education in Russian since Vladimir Putin came to power, with Russia now aggressively and illegally trying to foist this on occupied Crimea.
The so-called ‘military-patriotic’ education involves wearing military uniform and learning how to use firearms. The idea is inculcated of victory in war with the help of armed conflict.
In June 2016, a campaign to recruit people as contract soldiers had an image of a soldier with the words ‘Politeness is your choice’. After it became impossible to maintain the lie that the Russian soldiers without insignia who invaded Crimea were not theirs, Russia began assiduously pushing the term ‘polite people’ to supposedly describe the soldiers. On the third anniversary of annexation, one of the choreographed performances had children dancing up to the monument to this ‘polite person’ invading soldier, and saying ‘thank you’ in unison. Another such performance had young teenagers dancing about with machine guns.
In April 2018, the Artek Children’s Centre signed an agreement of partnership with Russia’s Investigative Committee, with the latter due to hold a program aimed at encouraging children to become investigators. During 2018, the Investigative Committee plans to hold a program entitled ‘young investigator’ at the camp in order to arouse interest among young Crimeans in such a profession. It may, unfortunately, be a matter of time before we see something like the performance in St. Petersburg on September 1, 2017, at a ceremony for future ‘investigators’ when a very small child solemnly promised Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee, that she would denounce her own mother if that were required by her work.
Russia began implementing its Strategy on education and upbringing of children back in 2014. This calls one of the tasks in education being “the formation in children of patriotism, a feeling of pride for their Motherland, willingness to defend the interests of the Fatherland, responsibility for the future of Russia based on the development of programs of patriotic upbringing, including military-patriotic upbringing”. As part of ‘Lessons of courage and patriotism’, children from one Simferopol school were taken to a Russian military unit.
There are also camps and ‘military-sport’ games for learning the state-approved version of ‘patriotic awareness’ while training with Kalashnikov rifles.
All of this, it cannot be stressed enough, is now being seen on territory that Russia has been condemned for occupying by all democratic countries and institutions. Russia is using propaganda to convince children that this ‘fatherland’ is now Russia, while intimidating, arresting and imprisoning those who openly disagree.