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Russia instils ‘patriotism’ in occupied Crimea with automatic rifles and propaganda

23.11.2020
Halya Coynash

Air pistols; automatic rifles; sniper and air rifles have been purchased for the Artek children’s camp in occupied Crimea, with this Russia’s latest criminal use of weapons to attract Crimean children to the occupiers’ army and to inculcate a war-focused  notion of ‘patriotism’.  All of this, human rights activists stress, is part of a major war crime that Russia is committing on illegally occupied territory.

The weapons, purchased as part of a tender for an ‘interactive laser trainer’, will almost certainly be used for so-called ‘military-patriotic’ activities linked with the Russian Defence Ministry’s ‘Yunarmia’ or ‘Youth Army’.  In November 2019, for example, Yunarmia was involved in a purportedly ‘educational program’ for child ‘soldiers’ from different parts of Russia  and ran an event for what Russia calls its ‘Day of the Conscript’ entitled ‘You and I are fated to serve Russia’. 

The conscription Russia has illegally imposed on occupied Crimea has nothing at all to do with ‘fate’, and is in flagrant violation of international law.  Russia has been repeatedly condemned for such behaviour by the UN General Assembly; OSCE; the EU and most democratic states.  Since it has, however, seriously curtailed freedom of speech since it invaded and annexed Crimea, it is probably hoping that most people do not know this.  Many young men have been forced into exile because they were unwilling to do Russian military service and the Crimean Human Rights Group is aware of at least 145 criminal prosecutions of Crimeans for not responding to such illegal call-ups.

In an interview to Suspilne, Iryna Sedova from the Crimean Human Rights Group, pointed out that the imposition of conscription and the militarization of childhood, including through such tenders and the uses made of the weapons purchased are elements of the war crime that Russia is committing and one for which those responsible must be held to answer.  The Crimean Human Rights Group is working in cooperation with Ukraine’s Crimean Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of the Prosecutor General, in presenting all evidence of such war crimes for the International Criminal Court. As reported here, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor declared Russia’s invasion and ongoing occupation of Crimea to constitute an international armed conflict and it issues reports on its preliminary findings each year.  The report recently sent to the Hague concerns illegal conscription in Crimea, as well as the mounting propaganda and so-called ‘military-patriotic upbringing’ that Crimean children are being subjected to and was the ninth submitted since 27 February 2014.

Sedova acknowledges that it is not easy to gather evidence as Russia is trying to hide its involvement in Donbas, but she hopes that when all has been proven, that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his accomplices will all get life sentences for the crimes they have committed.  The hope is certainly shared, however one could wish for more speedy responses.  While the Chief Prosecutor issued a clear position on occupied Crimea four years ago, the part of the report on Donbas has remained much less decisive.  The report expected shortly will be the first since the Dutch prosecutor began its trial (in absentia) of four men, three Russians who were (or are) linked with the Russian FSB or GRU [Military Intelligence], over the transportation from a military location in Russia of the BUK missile used to down passenger airliner MH17, killing 298 people, and since the  Netherlands took Russia to the European Court of Human Rights over MH17.

There is, in fact, little international dispute regarding Russia’s violations of international law in Crimea.  Article 51 of the (Fourth) Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which Russia is a partner to, unequivocally states that: “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”

The pressure is seen in the mandatory imposition of conscription and use of criminal prosecution, while Russia has done nothing but push its propaganda and militarization of childhood for the last six years and more.  Although in its interview, Suspilne says that Crimean children can, if they want to, join Yunarmia, there are strong grounds for doubting how voluntary such membership is.  Even without overt coercion, children, and their parents, were, from the outset, under enormous pressure to join.

On 31 July 2020, a Russian law came into force that made inculcation of ‘Russian patriotism’ and ‘civic consciousness’ part of the school curriculum in both Russia and occupied Crimea.  It is quite possible that this will be used to make Yunarmia a part of the school program, thus removing any pretence of voluntary membership.

As reported, Yunarmia, which ‘recruits’ children as young as eight, began as a militaristic wing of the ‘Russian Movement of School Students’, which was created by presidential decree on October 2015. That ‘movement’ was, Putin said, intended “to enhance state policy on bringing up the growing generation and facilitate their personal development on the basis of the system of values inherent to Russian society”.  Yunarmia was initiated by the Russian Defence Ministry and supposed to be “responsible for issues linked with the military-patriotic upbringing of young people”.  In early 2019, the Defence Ministry expressed the hope that by 2020 a million children and young people would have been ‘recruited’ into this ‘army’.

Russia’s militarization of childhood and pushing of a very distorted form of ‘patriotism’ are worrying enough for Russian children.  The impact in occupied Crimea is nothing short of catastrophic.  Child psychologist Kateryna Sobolyeva told Suspilne that real patriotism is about love for one’s country, not about weapons, ‘defence’ and creation of an ‘enemy’, especially when the question must arise of who for the children is this ‘enemy’.  Even if part of the militaristic propaganda is linked with the current regime’s  mythologising of the Soviet role in the Second World War, there is a much more dangerous aspect to it.  Russia’s political persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians, and the constant anti-Ukrainian hate speech in the Russian-controlled media all seem an evident attempt by an occupying regime to eliminate young people’s identification with their own – Ukrainian – homeland.

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