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⚡️ The militarization of youth in the post-Soviet space 1/3

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"Shoulder to shoulder, that's the way Russian troops march...

And even though the road to war is fraught with pitfalls..,

We will serve Russia in faith and truth."[1]

1] Excerpt from Yunarmia's official anthem, "Serving Russia (Sluzhit Rossii)," March 30, 2018, online at, accessed December 17, 2018.

Enemy at 9 o'clock! »2. At these words, Roman, 13, throws himself on the training ground and puts an imaginary enemy into play. Armed with his AK-74, he then begins to crawl, listening attentively to the advice of a benevolent instructor. Finally, the order to fire comes. Roman is proud to belong to Yunarmia; he learned how to dismantle and assemble a Kalashnikov in 43 seconds and believes that patriotism is an essential condition for the power of a country. Eventually, he would like to join an armoured division and follow in the footsteps of the Red Army soldiers who heroically fought the fascists during the Great Patriotic War. This dream is now made possible by Younarmia, which offers young Russians the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotic commitment by providing them with intensive military training. Far from being marginal, Roman's case seems to have become widespread since the creation of this movement fully supported by the state.

On 29 July 2016, a decree signed by the Russian Ministry of Justice officialized the creation of the All-Russia Military Patriotic Youth Social Movement 'Yunarmia'. by adopting its charter of operation which lists, among other things, the priority objectives of the movement, including "the preservation and enhancement of patriotic values".3. An initiative of Sergueï Choïgou, Minister of Defence, this youth organisation was created under the auspices of the DOSAAF (Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Air Force, the Army and the Fleet). This department of the Ministry of Defence, founded in 1927, was traditionally responsible for the patriotic education of citizens and their preparation for the defence of the homeland. Younarmia offers to its 272,000 members4A wide range of patriotism-related activities for boys and girls aged 8 to 17. These activities are classified into four distinct categories according to a well-considered curricular logic and within the broader framework of the Russian state's education policy5These are: "spiritual and moral education", "intellectual development", "physical and sports education" and "social action".

However, in addition to the omnipresence of patriotic themes in the proposed activities and the rhetoric employed, it is worth emphasizing the warlike, even militaristic aspect of this organization. The official videos show children marching on Red Square, engaging in military exercises and shooting. In general, these films make a point of showing the closeness of the organisation to the Army. In view of the predominance of the military in the functioning of the organisation, the term "militaristic" seems to impose itself to characterise it. This term being heavy with meaning, it is necessary to specify that "militarism" has a particular meaning in the post-Soviet space, particularly in the former Soviet Union. This specificity stems from the historical processes that the USSR has undergone since the October 1917 Revolution. Indeed, the traditional conception of militarism generally postulates a strict separation of the military and civil spheres, which would be challenged by an illegitimate hegemony of the military over civil affairs. This erasing of the civilian in favour of the military, as well as the disappearance of democratic principles and the rule of law that accompanied this process, would thus lay the foundations for a military dictatorship. In contrast, the Soviet understanding of the term does not refer to "the consequence of the domination of the military".nor is it the result of "specific ambitions of the military as a group capable of achieving its interests".6. For Manfred Sapper, 'Soviet' militarism is more akin to the 'fusion of the civil and military spheres ... put in place by representatives of the civil sphere, the politicians'.7. The porosity between these spheres, initiated by the October Revolution and ratified at the time of the construction of the Soviet stateThe porosity between these spheres, initiated by the October Revolution and confirmed at the time of the construction of the Soviet state, contributed to the appearance of a so-called "civil" militarism whose forms have endured and evolved, without ever totally disappearing.8.

Younarmia appears to be a unique case in many ways, whether because of the number of members it claims, the speed of its expansion (its recruitment centres are located in the United States), or the fact that it has a large membership base.Its recruitment centres are located in all subjects of the Federation, in Armenia, Tajikistan and the breakaway region of Abkhazia), and the highly militarised nature of its activities. Moreover, the resurgence of this type of organisation in contemporary Russia is not unlike that of the Pioneers and the Komsomol (Soviet youth organisations from 1918 to 1991). One could, in fact, believe in a rehabilitation of the Soviet legacy in its military-patriotic dimension. If the observation of this phenomenon calls for questioning the presupposition of a "Russian singularity", it would be advisable to avoid shortcuts and other reappraisals of this phenomenon.common to violent episodes in Russian and Soviet history, in order to deduce that there is only a "cultural" explanation for this phenomenon. Thus, an understanding of the logic at work in these forms of military-patriotic mobilization necessarily leads to the identification of potential elements of comparison, with a view to highlighting, or not, a Russian singularity in the matter.

The cases of Poland and the Baltic countries seem relevant for three reasons. Firstly, these countries have the merit of sharing a common history with Russia. They all belonged to the historical entity that was the Soviet Union for some, or the Warsaw Pact for others (as in the case of Poland) and share common political, economic, social and societal characteristics. Secondly, it can be said that Russia, Poland and the Baltic States are in similar geopolitical situations. Indeed, the identification of a threat and the need to protect oneself against it, whether it is Russia for the four NATO member countries or NATO for Russia, are powerful factors of military-patriotic mobilisation and condition defence policies. Finally, it would seem that Russia is not the only country to choose to mobilise its youth. Recent years have seen the emergence and growing importance of youth organisations with a strong military component, supported by governments and whose explicit aim is to defend the country against identified threats. This study will therefore focus exclusively on movements that are officially recognised and openly supported by the political authorities.9 The following teams were also involved: Strzelec (The Shooters - Poland), Jaunieji Sauliai (The Young Riflemen - Lithuania), Jaunsardze (The Young Guard - Latvia), Noored Kotkad / Kodutütred (The Young Eagles / The Girls at the Home - Estonia).

In view of the existence of such organisations in a context where threats are used as instruments to mobilise society, it is necessary to consider the mechanisms for determining the extent to which these organisations can be used to mobilise society.Russia, Poland and the Baltic States to prepare their societies for the possibility of future conflict, in a logic of densification of ground action. In this perspective, we will first look at the way in which the concept of patriotism is constructed and used by the political power, this instrumentalization going far beyond the simple rehabilitation of a legacy of militarized "socialism". Secondly, we will study the place of these youth organisations in the military systems of these countries, taking care to highlight the existing particularities, while identifying the mechanisms used to ensure the integration of young people in the organisations. Finally, we will attempt to establish a typology of the objectives and purposes of these forms of military-patriotic mobilisation, in the light of national singularities. However, it is necessary to relativise the importance of these organisations. By analysing their intrinsic quality and the audience they enjoy in societies, we will go beyond the effects of publicity fuelled by the fantasies that paramilitary organisations are subject to in the post-Soviet space.


While the notion of state patriotism has occupied a central place in the history of the Soviet Union and the people's democracies, the extent of its contemporary use (although varying from one country to another) calls first of all for a clarification of its conceptual foundations, before identifying its uses and vectors.

Defined by the Soviet Encyclopedia (1925 edition) as the quintessence of reactionary thought "whose function is to justify imperialist bestiality and to stifle the class consciousness of the proletbourgeois patriotism," as it was denounced in the aftermath of the Revolution, has been able to evolve and adapt to historical circumstances. The proclamation of "socialism in one country" in 1924 and the Great Patriotic War fully integrated Soviet patriotism into the Marxist-Leninist ideological paradigm. One of its notable characteristics, still relevant today, is its militaristic aspect, the result of a process of "militarization" (voyenizatsia). The prolonged experience of warlike violence in the Soviet Union made possible the persistence of the phenomenon, manifesting itself as "a symbolic and organized extension of the state of war, accompanied by a mobilization of the population in the economic and public spheres" (ibid.).10. Moreover, education was the main vector, "with the aim of educating a 'new man' through military training. The objectives of education were "valour, discipline, resistance, initiative, obstinacy, and absolute contempt for death".11 . Thus, it was as a result of a latent process that began in the early years of the Soviet state that youth organizations inherited a strong "military culture" expressed through patriotic themes.

Patriotism is undeniably the centre of gravity of these organisations. Expressed in a form that could be described as exacerbated, it constitutes a fundamental common characteristic: it guides the discourse and the pace of activities, while serving as a justification for their very existence. It is interesting to note, however, that patriotism has not always had this aura in society or in political power, especially in the decade following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR. For example, an empirical study12 Notes a low and relatively constant occurrence of the patriotic theme in Russian legislation in the 1990s (less than 10 per year, including military celebrations related to the 50 th and 55 th anniversaries of victory)13. As in Poland and the Baltic States, the end of the Soviet parenthesis marks a significant turning point in domestic politics, where patriotic discourse gives way to neo-liberal rhetoric that dispenses with any reference to the past.

But the resurgence of the patriotic theme in the 2000s and its reappropriation by the political authorities, mainly in Russia, has contributed to the trivialization of bellicose discourse aimed at a youth that is losing its bearings. In fact, anxious to restore the patriotic fibre of Russians after the humiliations suffered in the 1990s, Vladimir Putin ordered in 2001 the launch of the first "federal programme for the patriotic education of the citizens of the Russian Federation". These programmes, which are renewed every five years and implemented throughout the territory of the Russian Federation, are designed to establish a unified system of patriotic education throughout the country.14. To this end, they receive administrative support from federal, regional and local institutions, as well as financial support from economic actors subordinate to the State. For example, the semi-state bank VTB-Bank contributed 150 million rubles to the financing of the Younarmia project in 2016.15The remaining funds come directly from the federal budget. Other public institutions and organisations close to the Kremlin, such as the media, the Russian Orthodox Church, museums and Cossack organisations, are also involved.16.

It is therefore through a complete mobilization of institutions and with the support of an administrative network that the government implements a patriotic policy aimed at the whole of society and of which youth organizations are both the manifestation and the relays. Thanks to this renewal of patriotism, the political authorities have a powerful lever of mobilization that can be used in many ways.

2 Extract from the documentary: - Yle Areena, "Kalashnikov Kids", 7 November 2017, online at, accessed17 December 2018.

3 Younarmia, 29 July 2016,

4 The number of members is regularly updated on Younarmia's official website: (accessed October 16, 2018).

5 Oustav, op. cit. Chapter 2-1.1.

6 Manfred Sapper, "Russia's bellicose spirit: Legacy of a militarized socialism? (1917-1997)", in Culture Militaire et Patriotisme dans la Russie d'Aujourd'hui, Paris, Karthala, 2008, p. 38.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Private groups and other unofficial initiatives are therefore excluded.

10 Manfred Sapper, "Russia's bellicose spirit: legacy of a militarized socialism? (1917-1997)", op. cit. p. 39.

11 Ibid.

12 Ekaterina Khodzhaeva & Irina Meyer-Olimpieva, "Mobilizing Patriotism in Russia: Federal Programs of Patriotic Education", Russian Analytical Digest, CSS ETHZ, No. 207, 26 September 2017, pp. 2-8.

13 By way of comparison, the same study notes more than 250 occurrences in the year 2015 alone.

14 Anatoli Rapoport, "Patriotic Education in Russia: Stylistic move or a sign of substantive counter-reform", The Educational Forum, Volume 73:2, 2009, pp. 141-152.

15, 6 September 2016, online at TB_videlit_150_mln_ruble, accessed 17 December 2018.

16 Ekaterina Khodzhaeva & Irina Meyer-Olimpieva, "Mobilizing Patriotism in Russia: Federal Programs of Patriotic Education", op. ci

Title : ⚡️ The militarization of youth in the post-Soviet space 1/3
Author (s) : M. Pierre MOUGEL, du pôle études et prospectives du CDEC