The pioneers of Vladimir Putin’s new Young Army take their salute in an initiative with strong echoes of Russia’s past during the Cold War.
“These boys and girls enter our organizations at ten years of age, and often for the first time get a little fresh air; after four years of the Young Folk they go on to the Hitler Youth, where we have them for another four years . . . And even if they are still not complete National Socialists, they go to Labor Service and are smoothed out there for another six, seven months . . . And whatever class consciousness or social status might still be left . . . the Wehrmacht German armed forces will take care of that.” —Adolf Hitler (1938)
The first 104 schoolchildren joined the revived Soviet military-patriotic movement ‘Yunarmiya’ – or Young Army – in the city of Yaroslavl, the first cadets on a scheme that will be rolled out across the country in September.
Web critics drew parallels to the Hitler Youth and feared a rise in militarization under Putin, but Russian defence officials insisted it is about raising a generation of children ready to build a bright future for themselves and their country.
The oath of male and female ‘yun-armists’ (young soldiers) reads: ‘I swear to aim for victories in studies and sports, to live a healthy lifestyle, to make myself prepared for the service and labour for the sake of the Motherland, to cherish the memory of the heroes who fought for freedom and independence of our Motherland, to be a patriot and a dignified citizen of Russia.’
The first-ever woman in space, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, 79, was on hand at an ‘initiation ceremony’ to welcome to new ‘conscripts’.
‘I hope that studies and practical training will give you a chance to join the Russian Army later and to become the true defenders of our Motherland,’ she told the children, with some recruits said to be as young as ten.
The complicated international situation demands attention and training, she explained, alluding to perceived Western threats to Russia.
‘I congratulate you. I want to hope that our joint work will produce new sportsmen and new heroes. I wish each of you becomes the decent officer of the Russian Army.’
Officially the new set-up is known as the Voluntary Society of Support for the Army, Air Force and Navy, known as DOSAAF.
General-colonel Alexander Kolmakov said that reviving an old tradition of children and youth organisations can lead to the ‘growing of a generation of citizens who treat the history with care, who are kind and responsive, ready to build a bright future for themselves and for their country’.
His phrase ‘svetloe buduschee’ or ‘bright future’ was widely used in Soviet times to describe the expected great future of the USSR when Communism finally won the day.
‘The Yunarmiya movement, created upon the initiative of the Russian Defence Ministry and supported by the President of Russian Federation, will unite all organisations and bodies that train the citizens before they join the army.
‘And DOSAAF will allow members of the new movement to use its facilities for training.’ Serving cosmonauts added their messages of support from the International Space Station.
‘You are the true patriots of your motherland. And you deserve the right to become defenders of your motherland, its interests, its cultural and spiritual traditions,’ said said Alexey Ovchinin.
Young Russians will be taught to assemble assault rifles, as well as how to shoot. They will be able to learn parachute jumping, but also theoretical subjects such as military history and tactics.
Students will wear uniform, and units will have their own ‘headquarters’ and banner.
The main age group of the new Putin Young Army will be 14 to 18, but children will be recruited from the age of ten.
Officials stress that attendance will not be compulsory, and will be in addition to normal existing lessons.
Russia has witnessed a surge of nationalism since Putin’s land grab in Crimea in 2014 and top brass want to make the country’s ‘growing number of patriotic military movements’ more structured.
The initiative has been criticised, with Valentina Melnikova – who heads a soldiers’ rights group – stating: ‘Attempts to militarise children are a violation of their rights.’ One blogger accused the authorities of the ‘fascistization’ of Russia. ‘Putin-jugend got new members,’ said another.
Pro-government pundit Andrei Kurochkin insisted there was a need to ‘strengthen discipline, raise the prestige of the army and develop patriotic education’.
A source close to Putin’s new initiative said: ‘Yunarmiya will have a proper military-patriotic and military-sports programme. ‘Military-type sports, army service studies ~ it is not only about assembling and dissembling guns, it is also a course for a young soldier with marching and firing training with pneumatic guns.
‘Children will study tactics and the military history of Russia.’ They will also be taught the basics of first aid. Children will be given rooms of Yunarmiya, with posters, library, a banner of their detachment and its symbols, a source told gazeta.ru
‘Every detachment will have a commander,’ he said. source