The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (CSMR)
( 1996 , Russia )

...for their courage in upholding the common humanity of Russians and Chechens and opposing the militarism and violence in Chechnya.

1996 - Soldiers' Mothers-Against the Chechen war Right Livelihood Award

The soldiers' mothers understood that to defend their children they have to change the State and society. Their call for human rights in all the military power structures meant a call for democracy.


CSMR was founded in 1989 and officially registered the same year by 300 mothers of soldiers, whose initial aim was to campaign for their sons to return home early from military service in order to resume their studies. They succeeded in bringing home nearly 180,000 young men for this purpose.

Contact

The Union of Soldiers Mothers Committees of Russia
Luchnikov per., 4, Room 5
101000 Moscow
RUSSIA

http://www.soldiers-mothers-rus.ru/

Biography

CSMR was founded in 1989 and officially registered the same year by 300 mothers of soldiers, whose initial aim was to campaign for their sons to return home early from military service in order to resume their studies. They succeeded in bringing home nearly 180,000 young men for this purpose.

The mothers had been horrified by what they saw and learned about conditions in the armed forces: the regular beatings, abuse and humiliations, the lack of food or other necessities, the effective slavery imposed in the ‘construction’ battalions which comprised about 30 per cent of military manpower. Their demands were for thorough reform of military structures, reform of the armed forces on a democratic basis, an end to forced labour in the construction battalions, demilitarisation on the justice system, the establishment of effective civil control over the military and legislation to provide for an alternative civil service.

In 1990 some of these demands, including partial demobilisation of the construction battalions, were conceded by President Gorbachev, but in general the situation did not improve. CSMR set up a Rehabilitation Centre for soldiers who left the army for health reasons. Its activities expanded and diversified to include the organisation of human rights education for conscripts and their parents, dealing with individual complaints concerning human rights violations, regular inspections of military units, the working out of legislative propos …

CSMR was founded in 1989 and officially registered the same year by 300 mothers of soldiers, whose initial aim was to campaign for their sons to return home early from military service in order to resume their studies. They succeeded in bringing home nearly 180,000 young men for this purpose.

The mothers had been horrified by what they saw and learned about conditions in the armed forces: the regular beatings, abuse and humiliations, the lack of food or other necessities, the effective slavery imposed in the ‘construction’ battalions which comprised about 30 per cent of military manpower. Their demands were for thorough reform of military structures, reform of the armed forces on a democratic basis, an end to forced labour in the construction battalions, demilitarisation on the justice system, the establishment of effective civil control over the military and legislation to provide for an alternative civil service.

In 1990 some of these demands, including partial demobilisation of the construction battalions, were conceded by President Gorbachev, but in general the situation did not improve. CSMR set up a Rehabilitation Centre for soldiers who left the army for health reasons. Its activities expanded and diversified to include the organisation of human rights education for conscripts and their parents, dealing with individual complaints concerning human rights violations, regular inspections of military units, the working out of legislative proposals and the organisation of non-violent public protests.

In November 1994 the war in Chechnya broke out and, as CSMR put it, “the peaceful time for the Committee was over”. They opposed the war from the start, both in itself and for the threat it posed to the new Russian democracy. Their new activities included dealing with individual complaints from soldiers and their mothers, running a weekly ‘School for Conscripts’, supervising the special military unit for the rehabilitation of so-called ‘deserters’, which is under the aegis of the CSMR, as well as participating in working groups of the State Duma (parliament). In the first six months of the war, the Committee received letters from up to 200 people a day and in the same period nearly 10,000 people brought their complaints in person.

Hundreds of mothers organised by CSMR went to Chechnya to take their sons away from the war. They negotiated with the Chechen army and obtained the release of ‘prisoners of war’. CSMR organised a remarkable ‘March of Mothers’ Compassion’, bombarded the Russian government with statements and petitions, and campaigned for the young men who refused to serve in Chechnya, declaring themselves conscientious objectors. Most controversially, they started a campaign encouraging mothers to support the right of their sons to refuse military service – and they travelled abroad to support the idea of an International Tribunal on Chechnya.

The founders of CSMR were five women – two engineers, a journalist, a teacher and an economist. An all-volunteer organisation with no regular budget, CSMR now acts as the umbrella group for 50 regional organisations of soldiers’ mothers and liaises with others. In 1995, CSMR received the Sean MacBride Award from the International Peace Bureau and an award from the Norwegian Committee on Human Rights.

In the late 90s and beginning of the new millennium the Soldiers’ Mothers have been trying to prevent anti-democratic changes in the Russian military legislation demanding the immediate abolition of involuntary conscription, which “makes the army the source of threat to people and society, the source of social tension in Russia”.

In 2003 the Soldiers’ Mothers began a campaign for negotiations with commanders of Chechen armed formations. In 2005 they negotiated in London with representatives of the Chechen side. The ‘London memorandum’, which was signed by both sides, called, among other things, for European participation in the constructive settlement of the Chechen crisis. It is CSMR’s intention to broaden the circle of participants in negotiations on peace in Chechnya.

 
 

FAQ about the Soldiers Mothers

asked in 2005, answered by Ida Kuklina

1. How is it possible to reconcile the ideas of democracy and military service?

Democracy and military service could be reconciled by the idea of a democratic military reform which

– transforms the army from being a threat to security to people and society to the army which is protector of democracy and human rights in the country;
– stops the army being a source of social tension in the civic society in Russia.

2. What is the most disturbing story of a Russian soldier suffering from the conditions in the Russian army you have heard of recently?

I spoke at the press conference of the Right Livelihood Award’s 25th Anniversary Conference in Salzburg (8-06-05) of several disturbing cases of human rights violations in the Russian army. The practical work of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia brings forward only in Moscow about 10 000 of the most disturbing cases of human rights violations of conscripts, soldiers and their parents every year (on average).

3. Has your work become more difficult since you received the award?

No. On the contrary the Alternative Nobel Prize helped us because it confirmed our status of an internationally known organization and made the UCSMR more popular in the country and abroad.

4. Is the birth of your NGO connected with the Afghan war?

No, the movement of Soldiers’ Mothers, rather, was connected with ‘perestroika’. Perestroika gave the opportunity and possibilities of dialogue with the state authorities with positive results for the Soldiers’ Mothers.

5. Are you for Putin?

No, we are not “for” Putin. We are for democratic military reforms based on liquidation of the involuntary conscription institute. We cannot be “for” Putin – his name is connected with the second Chechen War and practical refusal to democratise the army.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

The award helped the regional committees of Soldiers’ Mothers to be equipped better technically. Unfortunately, we lost half of the award money during the financial crisis of 1998.

Publications

  • Publications by Ida Kuklina
  • Human Rights – expectations and realities. 2001. Download (pdf)
  • The soldiers’ mothers organization in Russia: how does it work. Published in IDA Magazine, Finland, 2002. Download (pdf)
  • One day in Chechnya. Published in IDA Magazine, Finland, 2003.Download (pdf)
  • Russia pays high price for its own criminal policy in Chechnya. Published in the Monthly Bulletin of Women for Peace, Switzerland, 2003.Download (pdf)