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Soviet Students Plan Strike To Protest Military Draft

August 15, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Soviet students said Thursday they will strike next month to protest a proposed law that would end their deferments from the military draft.

Top generals want to expand the draft to make up for the shrinking number of conscripts from secessionist republics, where draft dodging has exploded.

The student strike will begin Sept. 16, the opening day of the Supreme Soviet legislature’s session, and will continue until lawmakers drop the military proposal, said Andrei Krymov, a member of the newly formed Student Strike Committee.

″If they go ahead and pass the law, we’ll begin a campaign of civil disobedience,″ Krymov told The Associated Press. ″Of course, we don’t want to go to jail, but we’re prepared to.″

Student leaders said they were just beginning to organize strike committees outside of Moscow, and they could not predict how many of the 5 million students at Soviet universities, scientific institutes and other institutions of higher education would stay away from classes.

Soviet students traditionally have been politically docile. The last major student unrest was in Kiev last fall, where pro-independence hunger strikers forced the resignation of the Ukrainian prime minister.

The proposed law on ″Universal Military Duty″ would cancel deferments for university students and result in the rapid call-up of 500,000 youths between the ages of 17 and 27.

Some students would be excused for health reasons, and a few might gain special exemptions to study subjects with military applications. But in principle, all physically fit males would be required to serve for two years.

The Soviet Defense Ministry is pushing the bill, citing two main arguments.

First, it contends that student deferments are unfair to ordinary workers who are drafted into the army, navy, air force, Interior Ministry troops and KGB border guards at age 17.

″When a soldier comes up to me and asks, how come only workers and peasants have to serve, what am I supposed to answer?″ air force Gen. Gennady Benov told a news conference Thursday.

Every day, the Defense Ministry receives hundreds of letters - many of them from mothers of draftees - complaining about the unfairness of student exemptions, said Maj. Gen. Gennady Kashuba, the ministry’s chief spokesman.

The military’s second and more urgent argument is that student conscripts are needed to make up for the dwindling number of draftees from separatist republics.

Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov complained to the legislature on June 18 that the armed forces had been able to draft only 6 percent of the planned number of soldiers this spring in Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The epidemic of draft dodging, encouraged by republic leaders who are forming independent defense forces and demanding that draftees serve only in their home territories, means that ″soon there will be no armed forces,″ Yazov warned.

Murray Feshbach, a Soviet specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, reported this week that the number of Soviet draft dodgers has increased more than 80-fold in the past two years.

Out of a total annual call-up of 1.5 million to 2 million men, about 6,500 failed to show up in the spring of 1989. Last year, the number of no-shows rose to 135,000. This spring, it ballooned to 536,000, according to Feshbach.

While the loyal republics of Kazakhstan and Kirgizia filled 100 percent of their quotas of conscripts last year, and Russia supplied 97.5 percent of its share, all three Baltic republics were under 40 percent. Georgia met only 18.5 percent of its quota.

Draft resistance is rising not only because of separatist sentiment in the republics, but also because of widespread hazing of recruits by older soldiers and the deployment of troops in areas of ethnic unrest.

A commission appointed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1990 reported that 6,000 to 10,000 soldiers died in peacetime activities between 1986 and 1989. The main causes were listed as ethnic rivalry, harassment by officers and hazing.

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