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    ONLY 2,000 RUSSIANS WANT TO DO ALTERNATIVE SERVICE

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military observer Viktor Litovkin)

    The law on alternative civil service came into effect on January 1, 2004. Now every young man who is subject to conscription in the October-December 2004 call-up period, but cannot or does not want to put on a military uniform and serve in the army, has the right to apply by April 1 to his local military enlistment office to do alternative civil, and not military, service. The deadline for those who could be called up between April and June 2005 is October 1.

    Amazingly, there have so far only been 2,000 such applications in the whole country, says the deputy head of the main organisation and mobilisation department of the General Staff, Major-General Vladimir Konstantinov. In 2002, before the law had even been adopted, they numbered 1,047. Moscow enlistment offices have received just four applications. Does this mean that there was no need to adopt the law on alternative service?

    It is too late to argue the issue now. The constitutional right of choice for every 18-year-old man eligible to doing military service in the Russian Armed Forces, Navy or other paramilitary units, has been enshrined in the federal law "On Alternative Civil Service". The law was adopted by the State Duma on June 28, 2002, approved by the Federation Council on July 10, 2002 and signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 25, 2002.

    The law envisages that all young men can do alternative civil service if their beliefs or religion do not allow them to do military service. The same right is granted to representatives of small ethnic groups that follow "a traditional life, carry out traditional animal husbandry and are engaged in traditional crafts".

    True, any refusal to serve in the army because of personal or religious beliefs should be well substantiated and include reasons and circumstances for the application. If the drafting committee gives its consent, the draftee will do alternative service, which is 75% longer than an ordinary conscript's term in the army. For example, conscription time in the Armed Forces' organisations or other military units is 36 or 18 months (the latter for university graduates).

    Absence from work without a legitimate excuse for over four consecutive hours, additional vacations, serving a criminal or administrative sentence, dismissal from work because of alcohol, drug or toxic intoxication are not included in the time of alternative service. As the Labour Code is applied to men doing alternative service, they must work an eight-hour day and have the right to days off.

    The principle of service is usually exterritorial, which means that draftees have to do it outside their region of residence. However, if there is no such possibility, a young man may remain in his home town city, region or republic.

    It would be no exaggeration to say that Moscow offers the largest choice of possibilities. According to the Labour and Employment Ministry's list of organisations where alternative civil service can be done, Moscow has 2,700 vacancies at almost 50 organisations. The most important of them are social and special education institutions, such as special secondary boarding school No.20, the "Detskaya Lichnost" centre for psychological and educational rehabilitation, orphanages for mentally retarded children, the Konkovo vacation home for war veterans, vacation homes for labour veterans, as well as city hospitals. Apart from them, there are the gerontologic and psychiatric charity centre, a rehabilitation centre for the disabled and a number of psychological and neurological hospitals.

    Alexei Vovchenko, head of the alternative service division of the Russian Labour Ministry's employment department, who has all the information on the vacancies and wages for alternative servicemen, told this RIA Novosti observer, that young men were offered the lowest wages of 1,500-3,000 roubles a month and the lowest positions of orderlies, dishwashers, caretakers (yard keepers, rubbish collectors) and the like. This is not because somebody wants to punish those who do not want to do military service, but because there are not enough of these unskilled or low skilled workers.

    However, Moscow, like other large cities, needs very different professions and it is potentially a good career move for alternative servicemen. For example, they are offered work at the 1st trolleybus park that needs drivers, rolling stock repairmen and plumbers. Lyubov Rusetskaya, head of the alternative service division of the Federal State Employment Service's Moscow department, says that the trolleybus park has a fairly good hostel with rooms for 2 or 3 people and with all modern amenities and that it is quite prestigious to work there.

    It is hard to believe, but even the celebrated Alexandrov Academic Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army is inviting alternative servicemen to fill vacancies for the position of a first category ballet dancer or an orchestra musician. The Labour Ministry's list also contains such organisations as the Russian Defence Ministry's magazine Orientir, the Cultural Centre of the Russian Armed Forces, the Central Museum of the Armed Forces and the headquarters of the Moscow military district. The available positions are for repairmen, drivers, cleaners, and supervisors of museum exhibitions.

    Interestingly, the list does not include military units, where alternative service, according to the law, can be done in civil positions. Alexei Vovchenko explains that the reason for it is that so far there is no clear judicial definition of what a military unit is: an organisation, an institution or something else. The law reads "in organisations of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other forces, military formations and bodies". However, a military unit is not included in the definition "organisation".

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