Tag Archives: veterans

Violence towards Disabled Veterans of the Chechen Wars in Post-Soviet Russia – Work in Progress / Presentation – Post 1/5

From Combat Trauma to Abandonment and Social Marginalization.

Violence towards Disabled Veterans of the Chechen Wars in Post-Soviet Russia

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

This post is the first of a series of 5 dedicated to violence towards disabled veterans of the Chechen wars in post-Soviet Russia. The research conducted is a work in progress.

The first steps and hypotheses were presented at the Franco-German workshop on Culture and Experience of Violence in the Russian History (programm and details available on http://lodel.ehess.fr/cercec/docannexe.php?id=1684) titled “5èmes Journées franco-allemandes – Culture et expérience de la violence dans l’histoire russe” – Culture and experience of violence en Russian history”,  Supported by Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Cologne on the 8/9 September 2011 in Paris.

In 2010, I conducted 15 interviews of veterans of the Chechen wars – among the interviewees were officers, kontraktniki, military journalists, conscripts met thanks to the help of the Veterans Organization Boevoe Bratstvo as well as the Moscow Cheshire Home, which supports disabled military servicemen by providing temporary accommodation, meals, health and medical care and assisting in the provision of prostheses.

As many studies have shown, violence is very present in the military (in particular with dedovshchina) and outside the military -through the vector of  veterans. But during these interviews I was struck to hear that violence is also present in many forms not only in the servicemen’s experience on the battlefield but at every stage of their experience of disability, through the healing  process and the return to civil life. Interviews show that interviewees have been faced with violence and brutality on the part of their commanders, doctors, and have been abandoned by the state. Not only have they been exposed to the brutality of war, its physical violence but have they encountered « betrayal » (that is the word used), despise, neglect, violence, disengagement from the doctors and from the state. Violence is particularly exerted on conscripts. Aware of the violence undergone by this category of servicemen, one of my interviewers – an officer – created his own organization to help conscripts back from the Chechen war[1]. Although the history of the Soviet Union shows that lost wars as much as victorious ones lead to the social abandonment of veterans, the fate of disabled veterans seems to be particularily acute and conditionned by a cultural heritage from the Soviet time which glorifies a muscular body and favors work capacity as a criterion for citizenship.

Through 4 more posts, I will share the material of my research – notably 3 interviews with 3 conscripts-invalids who participated to the Chechen warss (posts 2 to 4). The final post (post 5) will be dedicated to the first steps and hypotheses of that research.

– Post 1/5 – Presentation (in English)

– Post 2/5 – Interview (in French) with Sergei, 35 years old, born in Novokuznetski, Kemerovo region. Conscript during the first Chechen war, injured during the storm of Grozny in 1994 (interview conducted in July 2010).

– Post 3/5 – Interview  (in French) with Valentin, 27 years old, born in St-Petersburg, voluntary conscript during the second Chechen War. He was injured by a mine while crossing a Russian minefield as ordered by his (drunk) commanding officer on the Armed Forces Day (interview conducted in July 2010).

– Post 4/5 – Interview  (in French) with Alexander, 28 years old, born in Kovrov, Vladimir Region, voluntary conscript during the second Chechen war. He was injured by a defecting weapon – his commanding officers and himself having full knowledge of this fact (interview conducted in July 2010).

– Post 5/5 – First steps and hypotheses

[1] Interview with Gennadi, officer, founder of the Rusich Organization. Boevoe Bratstvo, Moscow, 8 July 2010.

After the Death of Col. Budanov – Some Commentaries About Sexual Violence and the War in Chechnya

In July 2011, former Russian army colonel Budanov was killed near his new apartment in a fashionable area in Moscow. In march 2000, Budanov was arrested after he had kidnapped, raped and killed a Chechen girl, Elsa Kungaeva1. His case is one of the very few cases of violence against civilians that have been brought before the tribunals in Russia – and the only well-documented one on sexual violence.

Even if Budanov was arrested in march 2000 for rape and murder, he was afterwards charged only with murder : though a first forensic expertise found evidence of rape, a second forensic expertise “indicated” that the rape had been committed post-mortem. A soldier was charged with raping the dead girl with a shovel before burying her: a criminal case was opened, but he benefited from an amnesty and afterwards went back on his testimony. The fact that Budanov was not charged with rape allowed him to build all his defence on the false assumption that the girl was an enemy combatant – and that he killed her during interrogation in a fit of rage. Therefore, public discussion concentrated on “what is permissible to do to an enemy combatant”, and not on sexual violence.

Budanov was sentenced to 10 years in 2003, and released on parole in 2009 (after several refusals – probably due to the fact that his case had become a symbolic one). As soon as he was released, a new case – supported by the Chechen leadership – was brought against him for the disappearance of 3 civilians in 2000, but this new case was closed after a few months.

This death allows us to see how, more than ten years after the crime, Russian society and Russian authorities react towards war crime perpetrators in Chechnya, and to try to understand why the issue of sexual violence is seldom if never discussed.

Though Budanov had been deprived of all military decoration and titles when he was sentenced to 10 years in 2003, he was nevertheless buried with military honours, the military orchestra of the ministry of Defence played a funeral march and salvoes were fired. Ultra-right groups called their supporters to come to the funerals and police security was reinforced. The priest who led the funerals has been reported to say : “There is now a new saint in Heaven. Together with Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy and Evgeny Rodionov he will be praying for all of us2

It was reminded also that Budanov had always benefited from the compassion of Russian public opinion. According to the sociologist Denis Volkov from the independent public-opinion poll centre “Levada-centre”, “Over the years we have conducted several surveys of the attitude of Russians to Colonel Budanov. 50 to 60% of Russians sympathized with the prisoner, even if they did not deny that a murder took place. Most Russians did not doubt that he committed murder, but 36% of respondents said that this happened in Chechnya all the time and should not come as a surprise. What is significant in this crime is that, on the one hand, there was a soldier of the Russian armed forces, on the other – a Chechen girl. That is, there was a clear division between “us” and “them.” The Russian army – is one of the institutions that enjoys a high level of trust in Russian society. Whereas the Chechen girl, as a representative of the enemy’s side, was denied the right to sympathy. In December 2004, 55% of the respondents said that the Budanov trial was a step towards the Chechens. The most important for people was not the crime, but the opposition between “us” and “them“.3

Another journalist remembers that after Budanov was sentenced to 10 years, there was an public poll opinion on TV : “It was on a Moscow channel, TVTs, at this time you could still have live interview of people by phone, and the question was asked: “What would have been your verdict?”. Different answers were proposed: 10 years, life or nothing. And Muscovites voted this way (even the talk show presenter was shocked): 10 years (what the court gave) – 333 votes ; life sentence – 1370 (this is those who wanted to see him more strongly condemned) ; acquit him – 16 000 700”4.

Several journalist, commentators, observers wrote about this death in their newspapers or on the Internet – discussing mainly “is Budanov himself a victim of war”? The question of rape was nevertheless raised by some essayists. On the grani.ru website, essayist Mikhail Kriger criticized quite violently the public reaction towards Budanov’s death: “Budanov was buried with military honors. As a hero. As a warrior. Hundreds of people came to say final goodbyes to the former colonel. The leader of one the parliamentary party proposes to rehabilitate him. Streets are to be somewhere named after him5 (…). That’s the way it is, my dear fellow citizens. Today, half of those who voted on the radio “Ekho Moskvy” were in favor of the rehabilitation of Budanov. He appears now as a new hero. Are you sleeping or what? It is amazing! A murderer, a rapist, a looter, is now our new hero. This same colonel who kidnapped, raped and killed eighteen-years old Elsa Kungayeva.

Let it be clear. Why do I insist on rape? Simply because we can not assume anything else. Because that morning, the dead girl was naked, and our “hero” too. There were signs of rape on the body (it is only afterwards that someone found this clever explanation about a shovel’s handle). If my late wife would have caught me in a similar situation, I wouldn’t even have tried to find excuses. It would have been so obvious. Why, dear Russians, do you pretend to be idiots? Why are you so ready to believe in all sorts of nonsense? Are you really so gullible?6

What I find interesting here is the suggestion that the information given publicly was sufficient to draw the conclusions about what happened7 … but that nobody really wanted to see the facts. This is also stressed by a political commentator for the tabloid newspaper Moskovski Komsomolets, Aleksandr Minkin, who has written several articles on this case. In a radio interview after the murder of Budanov, he reads an excerpt of Budanov’s official acknowledgement of guilt : “As we were left alone, I asked her where her mother was8. She started to scream, to bite and tried to escape. I had to use force. A fight ensued, in the result of which I tore her blouse and bra. I told her to calm down. But she continued to scream and escape, then I had to lay her on the bed and I started to choke her. I choked her throat. I did not take off the lower part of her clothes...”. Aleksandr Minkin comments : “When he says that, left alone with her, he began to ask her where her mother was, and that she started screaming, biting and escaping, then the question arises : what did this interrogation look like, if the person examined had to bite and to try to escape? An examination – it’s when you sit on one side of the table and I sit on the other side of the table and I write down what you say. You don’t have to escape and bite. I am sorry, but you have to escape and to bite only if you are raped.”9

A. Minkin stresses also that so many persons mobilized to defend Budanov because the girl was a Chechen, and people felt the need to defend the honour of a Russian officer : the fact that Budanov was an officer, and not simply a soldier, may indeed explain part of the reactions and the support he benefited from the military hierarchy.

 But apart from this case, the question remains of why the question of rapes committed in Chechnya by Russian soldiers has never been raised publicly in Russia, even if cases were documented10. Several explanations can be found:

• the reluctance of victims to talk about rape and the attitude of Chechen society towards rape and rape victims : the cases were not brought forward by Chechen activists or representatives of civil society

• the general level of impunity for crimes committed in Chechnya : there were only five significant public trials for crimes committed against civilians in Chechnya since 1999, whereas the European Court of Human Rights (where most of the cases are brought now) has condemned Russia more than 200 times since 2006

• the lack of interest of Russian public opinion for a war that always has been presented as a “war on terror”, and has benefited from public support, even before the tragic hostage takings of October 2002 (Dubrovka theatre, Moscow) and September 2004 (School in Beslan)

• the lack of groups or public opinion leaders in Russia who could bring forward this question. The main Russian Human Rights organisations are reluctant to address the issue of women rights or violence against women, and did not have complaints to build upon. There are also in Russia women organisations, who work especially on the question of violence against women: but they address mainly the question of domestic violence and Chechnya is not part of their preoccupations. During a field work in 2010, none of the NGOs we met in Moscow or St Petersburg did mention the army and the war in Chechnya as part of the general problem of “violence against women”, and violence against women is mainly understood as violence against Russian women11. When they mentioned violence against women in the North-Caucasus, they explained it only as “violence due to traditions” (bride kidnapping, vendetta)12, and they are not necessarily aware of the racist subtext in some of the cases they have defended.13.

• the global perception of Chechen males, as well as all Caucasians, as men representing a danger for Russian women … (and not the contrary)

• the question of sexual violence and rape committed by Russian / Soviet army in other conflicts has never been discussed publically – especially as far as WWII is concerned14.

Afterword : looking for the murder suspect…..

The Kungaev family denied any link to this assassination and refuted the versions of a vengeance by Chechen relatives. On August 26, a Chechen (Magomed Suleymanov) was arrested and charged with the murder, though nothing is known about his possible motives and about the possible instigators or his accomplices. Reporting about his arrest, the Kommersant newspaper reported that his was recognized by a witness whose name is kept secret. According to some sources, the witness may have picked him up among three other suspects during the official identification at the police precincts as he was the only one who wore handcuffs…15

Nb : A slightly different version of this text has been prepared for the international workshop “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflicts”, Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung / Centro de Estudos Sociais, Universidade de Coimbra, 9/10 September 2011-08-22

photo credit: http://media.photobucket.com/image/budanov/bdpopeye/popeyes%20pix/3-117.jpg?o=3

  1. See Amandine Regamey, « L’opinion publique russe et l’affaire Boudanov [Russian Public Opinion and The Budanov Case] », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online] , Issue 8 | 2008 , URL : http://pipss.revues.org/index1493.html []
  2. http://www.ansar.ru/society/2011/06/16/17186 ; Evgeni Rodionov was a Russian soldier who was taken prisoner and executed in Chechen captivity in 1996 (he was reportedly beheaded after he refused to renounce his Christian faith or remove his silver cross). Some groups call for his elevation to sainthood, but the Russian Orthodox Church refused to canonize him. The mention of Rodionov may show that the priest who led the ceremony belongs to a more “radical” wing of the orthodox church and that this position does not reflect the positions of the church. []
  3. “Социолог Денис Волков – о сочувствующих Юрию Буданову (Sociologist Denis Volkov on those who sympathise with Iuri Budanov)”, 13.06.2011, http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/24233154.html []
  4. A. Минкин: “Если бы Буданов задушил и изнасиловал русскую по пьянке, никто не встал бы на его защиту” []
  5. Nb : during the funeral, ultra-right politic V. Zhirinovski proposed to have a street somehere in Russia named in the honour of colonel Budanov []
  6. Михаил Кригер – Страна нашла героя (The country has found a hero) June 14, 2011, http://grani.ru/blogs/free/entries/189215.html []
  7. Indeed, the first official declaration about Budanov by president Putin and chief of staff general Kvashin mentioned the rape ; but less than a month after the deed, in April 2000, Russian news agencies talked only about murder. []
  8. Nb : at this time, Budanov said he arrested the girl because he suspected here mother was a sniper for the Chechen rebels. After some time, he started to explain that the girl herself was a sniper and that he lost his temper because she was responsible for the death of several of his soldiers. []
  9. Александр Минкин: “Если бы Буданов задушил и изнасиловал русскую по пьянке, никто не встал бы на его защиту” (Alexandr Minkin : if Budanov had strangled and raped a Russian girl in a drinking bout, nobody would have defended him”), 13.06.2011 13:00 , http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/transcript/24232588.html []
  10. See « Data and Methodology – What Do We Know About Rapes Committed During the War in Chechnya ? » http://russiaviolence.hypotheses.org/406 []
  11. A lawyer we met, specialised in the defence of women victims of domestic violence in Moscow has, at the same time, defended Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in a trial against a newspaper …. in spite of the fact that Kadyrov himself has very clearly and publically expressed his idea that a woman is a man’s property []
  12. There is indeed a tendency to explain bride kidnapping as a « cultural phenomenon » or a “renewal of tradition” in Chechnya, whereas the rise of these kidnapping are mainly due to the new structure of power of the Kadyrov regime. Kadyrov and its supporters are young males who have absolute political power, rely heavily on weapons and resort to bride kidnapping to “take” women without going through the negotiations implied in traditional weddings []
  13. One of the major organizations, Anna Centre, was involved in the Ivannikova case in Moscow. This woman killed a taxi driver from Armenia who tried to attack her sexually, and was charged and sentenced with murder without any extenuating circumstances. She received the support of ultra-right groups, such as DPNI (Movement against illegal immigration) which awarded her 50 000 roubles for her courage. The organization did not specifically dissociate itself from DPNI or other rights groups that supported Ivanikova, though racist attacks against “Caucasian rapist” that were made at that time. []
  14. See Norman Naimark, “Russes et allemands : viols de guerre et memoires post-soviétiques” to be published in R.Branche, F. Virgili &alii, Les viols en temps de guerre, Paris, Payot, 2011. []
  15. Сергей Машкин, « Юрию Буданову подобрали уважаемого убийцу », “Коммерсантъ”, №162 (4703), 01.09.2011, http://kommersant.ru/doc/1763234 []

Culture & Experience of Violence in Russian History – Workshop in Paris

On September 8th and 9th, CERCEC is hosting in Paris a 2 days Franco-German workshop on Culture and Experience of Violence in the Russian History.

programm and details available on http://lodel.ehess.fr/cercec/docannexe.php?id=1684


5èmes Journées franco-allemandes

Culture et expérience de la violence dans l’histoire russe

5. Deutsch-französischer Workshop

Gewaltkultur und Gewalterfahrung in der russischen Geschichte

Supported by Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Cologne

Thursday, 8 September 2011 14.00-14.30 Welcome and Introduction

  •  Jörg Baberowski and Alain Blum 14.30-15.00 Mobilising Fighters
  • Stefan Wiese: The „Pogrom Paradigm”. A Case Study on the Role of the Black Hundreds and Jewish Self-Defense in 1905

15.00-16.00 Elite Violence

  • Tadzio Schilling: Deadly Jokes? Laughing and Dying in Stalin’s Kremlin  Andreas Oberender: Stealing from the State. The 1937-1938 Purge of Soviet Economic Officials Reconsidered

Coffee & Tea Break

16.30-17.30 Trickling Down, Creeping Up  Botakoz Kassymbekova: Raped by the State? Cases of Sexual Violence in Early Soviet Courts

  •  Anastasia Gorelik: Violence, Mass Media and the Putin Cult


Friday, 9 September 2011 9.30-10.30 Civil Wars and Famines

  •  Thomas Chopard: The Origins of the Ukrainian Famine, 1919-1923  Robert Kindler: Fear and Loathing in the Steppe. Civil Wars in Kazakhstan, 1929-1931

10.45-11.45 Soldiering for the Motherland

  •  Masha Cerovic: From Peace to War. Demobilization and Remobilization in German- occupied Soviet Territories, 1941-1942
  •  Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski: From Combat Trauma to Abandonment and Marginalization. State Violence towards Disabled Veterans of the Chechen Wars

12.00-13.00 Grappling with Nature, Human and Other

  •  Christian Teichmann: Changing Tides on the Oxus. The Lower Amu Daria, 1920s to 1940s  Marc Élie: Dessicated Steppes. Droughts, Erosion, Climate Change and the Crisis of Soviet

Agriculture, 1960s to 1980s

Lunch Break

14.00-15.00 Reprisals on Religion

  •  Ulrike Huhn: Popular Religious Celebrations after the Great War  Nikolai Mitrokhin: Persecuting Religious Believers in the Brezhnev Era.

Institutional and Personal Responsibilities 15.15-16.00 Memories and Memorials

  •  Alain Blum, Isabelle Ohayon and Marta Craveri: The Oral History Project „Archives sonores. Mémoires européennes du Goulag“

16.00-17.00 Comments, Conclusions  Susanne Schattenberg and Gabor Rittersporn


Centre d’études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen 44, rue de l’Amiral Mouchez 75014 Paris



Lehrstuhl Geschichte Osteuropas Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften Philosophische Fakultät I Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Unter den Linden 6

10099 Berlin



Fritz Thyssen Stiftung Apostelnkloster 13-15 50672 Köln http://www .fritz-thyssen-stiftung.de

Publication Announcement – Robert Dale’s Article “Rats and Resentment ; the Demobilization of the Red Army in Post-War Leningrad, 1945-1950”

On the topic of demobilization and social adaptation of post-war veterans, we would like to draw your attention to Robert Dale’s article « Rats and Resentment ; the Demobilization of the Red Army in Post-War Leningrad, 1945-1950 »,  published in the Journal of Contemporary History, n° 45, 2010, pp.113-133.


This article reassesses the myth of the heroic homecoming and successful Reintegration of Red Army veterans returning to Leningrad after 1945. Soviet propaganda created an official version of demobilization, which presented veterans as exemplary citizens who returned to civilian life with relative ease. This myth created the impression that ordinary Leningraders welcomed home returning veterans as heroes. Throughout the twentieth century the demobilization of mass conscript armies generated tensions and difficulties. Across Europe the experience of demobilization in the wake of industrialized warfare created resentment, disaffection and anger. In contrast to official myths, Leningrad’s veterans were little different from their counterparts elsewhere. Reports based on veterans’ letters intercepted by the military censor reveal that many exservicemen were deeply resentful of the reception they received in postwar Leningrad. The frustrations of demobilization were blamed on ‘rear-line rats’, a term of derision for officials believed to have shirked front-line service in favour of safer administrative jobs. These problems were not imagined by disaffected veterans. Other documents confirm that corruption and bureaucracy were widespread problems. Despite these simmering resentments, the myth of a successful demobilization has remained remarkably durable and continues to be accepted by historians and the general population.

Data and Methodology – The Post-Soviet Penal system and the Quest for Statistics – A Challenge to Social Sciences Researchers

Studying the link between violence in war situation and violence in post-war situation is in the core of our research. Although one should not jump to the conclusion that there is indeed such a link and should explore as well the role of dedovshchina (violent hazing), of shtrafbaty (penal battalions) etc. in veterans’ trajectories, investigating whether military service – especially combat exposure – increases risk for incarceration compared to non-veteran population is a necessary option that may not be an easy task to accomplish in post-Soviet Russia.

In the USA, using prisoner data and comparing them with the census or using data from national surveys of US veterans and non veterans does not seem to be a problem in terms of access. One limitation though in interpreting the data may come from the fact that inmates may not have mentioned that they are veterans “for fear of losing benefits from themselves and their family”1.

In post-Soviet Russia, as in Soviet Russia, statistics are hard to get. The Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN) is a secretive institution and accessing the data needed may require more than competence in statistics! One has to develop strategies to collect them.

Official data, when available, are published with scarcity. The number of prisoners and data about them are hold by the Russian government but are not in the public domain. And the different institutions existing in the framework of the Russian penal system (SIZO – sledstvennyi isolator, three types of IK – ispravital’naia koloniia ) make it difficult to draw a map of the general situation.

Searching journals and newspapers published by FSIN such as:

(The journal “Prestuplenie i Nakazanie” is published monthly since 1992 and is intended for the personnel of the ministry of Justice, the FSIN and all the governmental structures.)

(Founded in 2000, “Kazennyi Dom” is a monthly publication devoted to convicts.)

(Published since 1999, “Vedomosti UIS” is a monthly publication aimed at collaborators of the Russian judicial system.)

… may not be a successful option.

Therefore one should consider turning to prisoner support groups, or human rights NGOs which have been working for a long time in the prison environment and have been able to make personal ties with prison administration personnel2.

Among others, associations such as

–          Arestant – a Russian prisoner support network http://www.arestants.ru/

–          Center for Prison Reform, http://www.prison.org

may be the ones to turn to.

Special issues of Index such as:

Vse Tyurmy Rossii (All Russian Prisons / http://www.index.org.ru/turma/st/)


Nevolia, the supplement of Index  (Issue 16-2008 http://www.index.org.ru/nevol/2008-16/) are also recommended for a start….

…to be continued…

  1. Greg A. Greenberg, Robert A. Rosenheck and Rani A. Desai, “Risk of Incarceration among Male Veterans and Nonveterans: Are Veterans of the All Volunteer Force at Greater Risk?”, Armed Forces & Society, Vol. 33, n° 3, April 2007, pp. 337-350. []
  2. On this aspect cf. the interview with Liudmila Al’pern – Center for Prison Reform – published in The Journal of Power institutions in Post-Soviet Societies, issue 9, 2009, http://pipss.revues.org/index1981.html, paragraphs 27-30. []

Book Review – Demos Report on Police Arbitrariness (reviewed in French)

Demos, Militsiia mezhdu Rossiei i Chechnei. Veterany konflikta v rossiiskom obshchestve, Moskva, 2007, 304 pages. Reviewed by Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

L’étude de Demos sur les policiers vétérans des guerres de Tchétchénie1 constitue la seconde étude complexe du centre2. La première s’intéressait au phénomène de l’arbitraire (« proizvol ») dans la police. Cette nouvelle étude s’intéresse à un des facteurs de développement de cet arbitraire : le passage par la Tchétchénie3.

Bien que les deux conflits de Tchétchénie (1994-1996 et 1999-jusqu’à aujourd’hui) aient entraîné l’envoi de dizaines de milliers de militaires et de membres des ministères dits « de force » dans les zones de combats , le centre Demos a choisi pour son étude de s’intéresser exclusivement aux policiers et aux forces spéciales du ministère de l’Intérieur (OMON).

Officiellement les opérations militaires en Tchétchénie ont pris fin en 2002, pour entrer à cette date dans une phase de « reconstruction ». Depuis cette date, policiers et membres des forces spéciales du ministère de l’Intérieur (MVD) continuent d’être envoyés sur place par rotation dans le but de maintenir l’ordre, de former les forces de l’Intérieur tchétchènes et de les assister dans leur tâche. En réalité les affrontements persistent depuis cette époque.

A leur retour au pays, ces hommes du ministère de l’Intérieur se retrouvent de nouveau à leurs postes et leurs fonctions en contact direct avec la population et cela à la différence des membres des forces armées et des forces spéciales du ministère de la Défense rentrés dès 2002 dans leur garnison et réaffectés à leurs missions spécifiques.

Pour Demos, ces policiers, de retour à la vie civile, en l’absence de systèmes adéquats de réhabilitation professionnelle et psychologique, connaissent une déprofessionalisation et une désadaptation qui les entraînent vers des écarts et des violations du droit qu’ils sont censés faire respecter.

Pour comprendre comment influe sur ces hommes le passage par la Tchétchénie, pour mesurer le poids du vécu et de l’expérience tchétchène sur les vétérans des forces du ministère de l’Intérieur et leur adaptation à la vie civile à leur retour, le centre Demos a interviewé en 2006 des vétérans du ministère de l’Intérieur issus de 5 régions de Russie ainsi que leurs épouses, des dirigeants du ministère de l’Intérieur, des commandants des postes de police, des psychologues du MVD et des leaders d’organisations vétéranes. Au total 95 entretiens ont servi de base au rapport du centre.

Le rapport est divisé en 5 parties : la première traite du rapport des policiers au conflit en Tchétchénie, leur appréciation de la situation et les raisons qui les poussent à partir en mission. La seconde partie concerne leur réhabilitation et leur adaptation à la vie civile. La troisième partie examine le rapport de la société aux vétérans. La quatrième partie est consacrée à la problématique des vétérans canadiens. Enfin, la dernière partie examine la situation des vétérans dans cinq régions de Russie.

Alors que pour une bonne majorité des commandants interrogés dans le cadre de cette étude l’expérience tchétchène est perçue comme positive – selon eux elle soude le groupe, permet aux policiers d’acquérir une plus grande confiance en eux et d’apprendre à tirer – , le rapport Demos met en avant plusieurs facteurs d’aggravation de l’état des hommes liés au passage par la Tchétchénie.

L’allongement de la durée des missions en Tchétchénie (de 1 mois et demi au début de la seconde guerre de Tchétchénie à 3 puis 6 mois) en constitue un: éloignés longuement de leurs familles, incapables à leur retour de se mettre à jour sur les nouvelles lois et procédures à l’usage dans leur poste de police, les policiers sont incapables de faire face à leur tâche, perdent leur qualification et le sens de la réalité. Leur rapport à la population se fausse : on assiste à une transposition de la méfiance – qu’on leur a appris à ressentir vis-à vis de la population civile tchétchène – à la population de leur province. La disparition, en 2002, des indemnités de combat4 constitue un autre facteur d’aggravation de l’état psychologique des combattants : alors qu’elles constituaient la motivation principale du volontariat pour les missions en Tchétchénie (pour les policiers essentiellement car pour les OMON ces missions sont obligatoires), leur disparition a entraîné des pressions de la part des commandants sur des hommes moins enclins à partir. A partir de 2006, il est donc devenu quasiment impossible d’échapper aux kommandirovki (missions) en Tchétchénie. Ces contraintes informelles sur les policiers (le principe de volontariat est toujours en vigueur officiellement) ont provoqué et continuent de provoquer le départ de la police du personnel qualifié.

Le rapport du centre Demos met également en avant les failles – voire la quasi-absence – de systèmes de réhabilitation psychologique et professionnelle des vétérans du MVD : de fait, le système de réhabilitation ne répond pas aux problèmes soulevés et n’englobe pas les questions de réintégration professionnelle.

Le chapitre d’Asmik Novikova sur le service psychologique du MVD5 est particulièrement éclairant et instructif à bien des égards sur le développement de la psychologie en Russie et sur la mentalité stalinienne encore à l’œuvre aujourd’hui. Outre le fait que jusqu’en 2006 les psychologues du MVD n’étaient pas tenus de posséder une formation en psychologie (n’importe qu’elle formation en sciences humaine ou sociales suffisait), et que la notion de confidentialité des informations recueillies par les psychologues n’existait pas, on y apprend d’une part que les psychologues, qui sont censés prendre en charge les vétérans de Tchétchénie, ont une position ambiguë dans l’institution dans la mesure où ils sont soumis au même système de grade que leurs collègues et qu’ils peuvent éventuellement participer à des patrouilles si le poste de police est mis en alerte ; d’autre part, qu’ils dépendent de la direction des cadres et à ce titre sont chargés de sélectionner les cadres susceptibles de travailler dans la police ou susceptibles d’être licenciés (ce qui implique que les policiers hésitent à se confier à eux) et qu’enfin le système d’expertise psychologique est profondément marqué par une conception historiquement russe et idéologiquement stalinienne6 de l’individu et de son état psychique qui fait du traumatisme une faiblesse personnelle. Au regard de cette perception , les psychologues ont donc pour mission de détecter les éléments potentiellement défaillants avant que ceux-ci ne partent sur le terrain des opérations. Ce qui signifie que toute manifestation de syndrome de stress post-traumatique est en soi la preuve de l’incompétence professionnelle de ces psychologues. Il est donc peu surprenant qu’un nombre infime de syndromes de stress post-traumatique soient détectés par les psychologues du ministère de l’Intérieur chaque année.

Au-delà de cette mentalité à l’œuvre au sein des services psychologiques du MVD, un constat s’impose : il n’existe pas de capitalisation de l’expérience des guerres locales précédentes. Alors que les OMON sont engagés depuis les années 1980 dans des coup de mains dans l’Étranger proche, aucune réflexion au sein du ministère sur l’impact de ce que l’on peut qualifier de « combats » sur les forces de l’ordre n’est en œuvre. Il ne semble pas non plus qu’il y ait de transfert de savoir-faire entre les ministères de l’Intérieur et de la Défense dans ce domaine alors que ce dernier possède une expérience ancienne et relativement poussée – même si elle reste insatisfaisante – en matière de réhabilitation psychologique et professionnelle.

Le tableau général que dresse l’étude de Demos sur le rapport du ministère de l’Intérieur et plus généralement de la société russe vis-à-vis de ses vétérans des conflits de Tchétchénie est inquiétant à plusieurs titres : dénis de la guerre et de ses conséquences sur les hommes, mépris des limites de la résistance humaine et de la souffrance psychique, lenteur et défaillance dans leur prise en charge professionnelle ou psychologique au retour à la vie civile.

On peut regretter que le rapport de Demos ne fournissent pas de statistiques concernant notamment le profil sociologique des hommes entrant dans la police ou les OMON ainsi que le nombre de policiers passés par la Tchétchénie depuis le premier conflit en 1994 jusqu’à aujourd’hui (au moins dans les 5 régions considérées) ; et l’on peut regretter également que l’étude ne mentionne que brièvement sans s’y attarder les opérations de nettoyage (zachistka) menées contre les populations civiles tchétchènes et que les vétérans n’aient pas été interrogés sur ces questions.

Au-delà de ces réserves, l’étude du centre Demos constitue un document inédit et extrêmement précieux pour la connaissance de la société post-soviétique, de ses institutions (elle a pu pénétrer au cœur d’une institution opaque et fermée à la recherche en sciences sociales), mais aussi de la politique de l’État à l’égard de ses vétérans : à l’évidence, le statut des vétérans et la politique sociale menée envers eux dépend fortement de la façon dont l’État définit la guerre. Or si l’État refuse d’appeler « guerre » le conflit alors la guerre n’existe pas et les vétérans n’en sont pas et cela même si les vétérans eux-mêmes – comme en témoignent les interviews – utilisent exclusivement le terme « guerre » pour qualifier le conflit. Or la premier conflit de Tchétchénie a été mené officiellement afin de « restaurer l’ordre constitutionnel », et le second, à partir de 1999, a été conduit au nom de la « lutte contre le terrorisme »…Il n’est pas étonnant, dès lors, que l’État ne fasse que peu de cas de ces vétérans qui pour lui n’en sont pas …

  1. Etude conduite dans le cadre du programme “Drawing Public Attention to the Chechen Conflict through the Prism of Issues Associated with Social Adaptation and Professional Activities of Veterans” ; également disponible dans une version anglaise raccourcie : “Policemen in Limbo. Veterans of the Chechen Conflict in Russian Society”, Moscow, Demos, 2007. []
  2. Tsentr sodeistviia provedeniiu issledovanii problem grazhdanskogo obshchestva. []
  3. Cf. l’interview de la présidente du centre Demos de l’époque, Tanya Lokshina, dans le numéro 6/7 de la revue électronique The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies, http://www.pipss.org/document772.html. []
  4. Un jour de combat équivalait à trois jours de service. []
  5. Voir le chapitre « Psykhologicheskaia sluzhba MVD », pp. 60-75. []
  6. Catherine Merridale, « The Collective Mind : Trauma and Shell-Shock in Twentieth-Century Russia », Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, # 1, Special Issue: Shell-Shock, January 2000, pp. 39-55. []

New Book – On Veterans and Post-War Trajectories – “L’adieu aux armes. Parcours d’anciens combattants”, Nathalie Duclos (Ed.)

The book is published by Karthala, 2010  (in French)

Abstracts in English

Table of Contents

 Nathalie Duclos. Introduction

The introduction examines research in the fields of history, political science, sociology and anthropology concerning combat veterans of various armed conflicts, within and between states. Two research methodologies emerge which, though developed independently of each other, reflect a preoccupation with similar questions. The author proposes a third methodology, reformulating these questions in the aim of laying the groundwork for a political sociology of the ex-combatant’s return to civilian life and their postwar trajectories. Critical of the view that the end of a war opens up a radically new era, the author suggests taking a closer look at the legacies of war, its postwar sociological and cognitive continuities and discontinuities, the possible difficulties involved in ex-combatants ridding themselves of a violent “mode”, the effects, from that point of view, of policies aimed at them, and the strategies of individual veterans in face of the deep sociological and political transformations of the postwar period. The career concept proposed by Howard Becker, certainly helps to better understand and deal with ex-combatants’ postwar itineraries.


Anne Le Huérou et Élisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski.  A “Chechen Syndrome”? Russian veterans of the Chechen war: transposing violence into society

This chapter is a study of Russian veterans after the Chechen conflict and the trajectories both of demobilised soldiers and policemen returning to their previous law enforcement functions. The authors explore the hypothesis that the war experience is transposed into episodes of postwar violence. They also bring in related elements, such as pre-war experiences in institutions where brutality is common (army, police) and government policies implicitly or explicitly authorizing violence.

Sümbül Kaya. The Return of Veterans: terrain for a regime of national security?

This article analyses the situation of Turkish soldiers who participated in the Kurdish conflict during their military service. It questions the extent to which the return of ex-combatants has been instrumentalized by the Turkish authorities, in particular through a mythification of past combats and sanctification of martyrs which breeds a need for security in the population and thus facilitates the redeployment of a law-and-order regime in social structures. Indeed, the return of the veterans to civilian life seems to play a role in the security ethos. Furthermore, the spread of this mode of thinking engenders an attitude of “moral armament” towards the Kurdish conflict.

 Sophie Daviaud. The Demobilization Process of Colombian Paramilitary Groups: why it results in a social and political dead end

This article deals with the demobilization process of the Colombian paramilitary groups, begun in 2003 by the government of Alvaro Uribe Velez and ending in early 2006 with the disarmament of more than 31,000 fighters. After describing the short-term effects of the process – a general decrease in the level of violence and a reduction in the number of human rights violations – the author seeks to explain the difficulties which are beginning to appear and which undermine the long-term process. Various hypotheses are considered: the “warrior habitus” of the paramilitaries, which renders them incapable of other than war-like activity and a “brutalization” of Colombian society. The author believes that it is the permanent presence of narco-traffic networks in Colombia which explains the creation of new armed groups and the restructuring of old ones; furthermore, that the failure of the DDR process is evidence of the infiltration of Colombian society and its political system by paramilitaries.

 Camille Boutron. Back to Civilian Life After a War: the blotting out of women’s participation in the Committees for Self Defense in Peru

Between 1980 and 2000, Peru was shaken by violent armed conflict causing the death of more than 69,000 people. In collaboration with the army, civil defence patrols were set up in the peasant communities hardest hit by political violence. Known as Comités de Autodefensa, these organizations armed themselves to protect their communities. Although the majority of their members were men, women made a significant contribution to self-defence activities. Their participation, however, has been obliterated from the memory of the communities. Moreover, incidents of domestic violence against women have increased sharply, a fact interpreted by the author as due to the continuation of a “warrior habitus” in peacetime.


Béatrice Richard. Can a War Veteran Integrate the American Dream?

What is it like for a war veteran to return to a peaceful and prosperous civilian society? This question is particularly relevant in Canada. Far from the massive operational theatres of both world wars, Canadians experienced these events in a schizophrenic mode: some were caught in the turmoil of the front lines, others remained unharmed on a relatively secure home front. The resulting cultural clash between veterans and civilians was inevitable. How did the veterans experience their return? What were the outward signs of their crises? Veterans told us that after signing their discharge they were asked to abandon their warrior habitus on the spot and pursue the American Dream. It was assumed that the emerging welfare state would create a peaceful and well-ordered life for veterans. However, it neglected to take into account the symbolic dimensions of “civilianization”. At best, the community commemorated its heroes’ ultimate sacrifice, but paid little attention to those who had survived, taking it for granted that they were back to “normal”. Thus, because the community offered no “re-aggregating” rituals which might have helped veterans evacuate the hubris imbued in them by the nation at war, returning soldiers were left to find their own way of repressing their “dark side” and coming to terms with the loss of their brothers in arms. Some managed better than others. But does one ever come back from war? 

Fabien Théofilakis. Veterans, French Authorities and Public Opinion Towards German Prisoners of War (1944-1949)

This paper offers an analysis of the “cultural demobilization” of French veterans. The complex relationship between French veterans and German prisoners of war (POWs) and with French society as a whole reflects the difficult process of reintegrating veterans that began in 1945 and lasted until the departure of the last POW in 1949. The article discusses the impact on this process of how the enemy was viewed, the role of political structures, and the importance of the international context – at three points in time. From 1944 until October 1945, a rationale of surveillance towards an enemy universally despised justified the participation of veterans – in recognition of their sacrifice – in the administration of POWs. As time went on however and the war receded into the past, POWs began to take on a more human and positive image as workers for France, which frustrated veterans’ attempts to remain the focal point of the country’s reconstruction. 1947 was a turning point in the relationship of French society with both POWs and veterans. Official projects aimed at the integration of the soon-to-be-liberated POWs, now accepted by public opinion, aroused conflicting reactions on the part of veterans and foreshadowed their marginalization by French society in the 1950s. 

Samuel Tanner. “Recycled” Militiamen: the reconversion experience of four former members of Serbian armed bands

How do former militiamen who have participated in mass violence “recycle” once the war is over? Do they reintegrate into the postwar “normalized” day-to-day framework of social, political and community relations? Or does the violence experienced during the war transfer into the postwar context? And if so, can we speak of a violent habitus? This chapter, an ethnographic study of the postwar reconversion of four former Serbian militiamen who took part in mass violence in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, underlines the need to view such conversion experiences from a dual angle: collective and individual. From the collective point of view, we find a reconfiguration of the community’s social economy with a tendency towards a new order giving these former members of armed bands the status of a local elite. Individually, the vestiges of war are reflected in the difficulty these men have making sense of their personal investment in an unjustifiable past, in addition to which some also suffer from the continued presence of these war experiences within. This becomes apparent in their ambivalent relation to violence.

Sandrine Perrot. Museveni’s Best Enemies: the reintegration of former LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) combatants in northern Uganda – a political tool and a dilemma

The return to northern Uganda after 2003 of adults and commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in a no peace no war context has posed legal, political and security challenges for the Ugandan government. This article shows that by encouraging and politically exploiting the successful reintegration of a few high-ranking ex-commanders, the Ugandan government has been trying to win over – or at least control – this stronghold of political and military opposition. However, by perpetuating war hierarchies, chains of command and mobilization networks, the political use of LRA chiefs by the government is simply putting off the “civilianization” of former combatants and the pacification of the political arena, in other words, the demilitarization of political relations between northern Uganda and the central government.


Christophe Roux. From the Great War to Democracy: ex-combatants and the Sardinian autonomist movement

This chapter, a study of Sardinian veterans in the aftermath of the First World War, describes a mobilization by ex-combatants that led neither to totalitarianism nor authoritarianism, but on the contrary to the beginnings of a democratic construction. The article describes the situation in the region after the war, how veterans first organized in an association and how the association developed into an autonomous political party with universal male suffrage before the rise of fascism in Italy.

Aude Merlin. Postwar Years in Chechnya: sabotage of the Chechen state-in-construction by spoilers

This article deals with the way in which the period between the two Chechen wars (1996-1999) was sabotaged by spoilers. Maskhadov, who was head of the Chechen army in Ichkeria – though elected President of Chechnya in 1997– was rapidly weakened by other Chechen ex-combatants, grouped mainly around the Islamists. Taking into account Moscow’s influence on the young independent state of Chechnya and its possible collusion with spoilers inside the country, this article attempts to analyse how the non re-integration of ex-combatants into the postwar social and political framework fostered the spread of violence and undermined the authority of the newly elected president. All this in a context of quasi-total destruction and the absence of a political tradition of the state in Chechnya, along with the growing power of the Islamists. 

 Richard Banégas. A generation of warriors? Violence and the political identity of young militiamen in Côte d’Ivoire

Since the outbreak of war in 2002, militia organizations have flourished in the southern regions of the country. This chapter analyses the role of these militia since the official end of the war and examines their social and political influence. Studies of rural militia in the west of the country and in Abidjan show that since the official end of the conflict young recruits have gained considerable power on the local and national levels, thus disrupting intergenerational relations – though the article insists that the phenomenon is variable and contingent on groups and regions. Although some former fighters have become exemplary figures of social success, others feel the process of peace has left them behind. The article discusses the brutalization of Côte d’Ivoire society and the subjectification of youth by violence. It foresees the possible spread of a “war ethos”, on the hypothesis that it is most likely linked to an (im)moral ghetto economy dominated by the ambiguous figure of the urban “warrior”.