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⚡️ The militarization of youth in the post-Soviet space 2/3

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The military-patriotic mobilization observable in these societies is above all a tool that reveals a willingness to reconcile around a national project, transcending both ideological cleavages and socio-economic disparities. Two complementary uses can be added to it: internal and external.17.

17 Anne Le Huerou, Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, Culture Militaire et patriotisme dans la Russie d'aujourd'hui, Paris, Karthala, 2008.

From an internal perspective, patriotic mobilization is directed towards society as a whole. It is then a question of federating the social body, fragmented by nature, around a national narrative. Paradoxically, however, patriotic mobilization also takes an exclusive form, in that it is designed to marginalize certain elements of society. It creates a distance between the "us", the "real citizens" and the "us".18It creates a distance between the "us", the "real citizens", i.e. those who adhere to the national project served by the patriotic discourse and by extension to the policy carried out by the government, and the "others", those who are not very conciliatory with regard to political power. For example, the Polish Strzelecs describe individuals with socializing tendencies as "Polish-speaking traitors".19. Patriotism then becomes a true "label of social legitimacy".20The constructors of patriotic discourse and its orientations decide the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a group. In this logic, the patriotic-military youth organizations appear fundamentally legitimate, since they use the patriotic slogan that is put at their disposal.

Another use of patriotism, which could be described as external, tends to mobilize the population against an external or internal threat. If the theme of external threat is central to the rhetoric of power, as evidenced by the constructions of language commonly used in speeches21However, this threat is not clearly defined and is protean. It can be implicitly or explicitly assimilated to a state posing a threat of physical aggression; Russia for Poland and the Baltic states, especially since the illegal annexation of the Crimea in 2014, or this imprecise geographical and political entity that is "the West" for Russia. The youth thus forms a group that needs to be mobilised to defend the country, with youth organisations embodying the myth of youth as guarantors of the sovereignty and values of the homeland. The Polish and Russian cases in particular, however, have the peculiarity of reconciling, in their speeches, the idea of youth protecting the fatherland and that of youth to be protected against external influences.22 (whether they are concepts that run counter to the national narrative, or other progressive ideasdecadent' - first and foremost, same-sex marriage and abortion). The multiculturalism advocated by the EU as an external entity, for example, is vigorously rejected by the Strzelecs, as it contradicts the myth of the homogenous Polish nation. The "manipulation of consciences" and the "imposition of norms and values" resulting from "propaganda" aimed at perverting vulnerable youth and, consequently, at undermining the very foundations of the nation, are often denounced as "manipulation of consciences" and "imposition of norms and values". Finally, patriotic discourse is nourished by the construction of the image of the internal enemy.23This is typically represented by the Chechen terrorist in Russia in the 2000s, or currently by the figure of the migrant in Poland.

However, while it is a question of preserving youth, which is malleable in essence, youth is also a prime target of patriotic discourse. Identified both as potential receivers and transmitters, youth organizations are the relay of a discourse that was bornThe youth organizations, identified as both potential receivers and transmitters, are the relay of a discourse that needs to be deciphered in order to understand the mechanisms at work in the construction of the "national idea". Four cross-cutting themes common to all our subjects of study deserve to be highlighted.

The sacralization of a historical heritage and traditions. All these organisations identify themselves as the direct heirs of paramilitary organisations that were created before the First World War, such as "Les Tireurs" by J. Pilsudski's "The Shooters", or during the inter-war period, namely the Lithuanian "Union of Lithuanian Riflemen", the Latvian "Defenders" and the Estonian "National Defence League". While this link is explicitly claimed in the Baltic and Polish cases, the Russian organisation Younarmia is an exception, as it makes no formal reference to Soviet youth organisations. However, its codes, symbols and practices are in all respects similar. It should also be noted that the Baltic and Polish organisations, which these movements claim to be, have all distinguished themselves in struggles for independence and in the fight against communism.

Nostalgia for lost glory and power. The reactivation of historical founding myths, as well as the re-reading of a national history exclusively through the prism of military conquests, occupy a central place in the speeches. This nostalgia for a period identified with a golden age, when the nation was feared and respected by its neighbours, appeals to the myth of the innocent nation. The latter helps to spread the idea that if the nation had not been victimized by historical forces beyond its control, most of today's ills would have been irrelevant. In addition to this aspiration to return to the hypothetical past, nostalgia for lost glory tends to highlight the desire to affirm the historical continuity of the State, despite differences in political regimes and shifting borders.24.

The heroism of real or fictional figures. Always in this logic of identification with a supposed or real heritage and historical reconstruction, these organizations give a significant place to certain figures and their heroic acts (such as Joseph Pilsudski 25 and Alexander Suvorov26), or to certain groups that have distinguished themselves on the battlefield. To these heroic figures are added representations and images conveyed in particular by war films. Post-Soviet film production is an interesting case in point, inasmuch as the boïeviki (war films) enjoy constant popularity and high visibility, whether in Russia, Poland or the Baltic States. As Valérie Pozner points out, "the Second World War is a period of predilection; it allows the staging of violent episodes and the highlighting of individualistic heroes, lonely fighters in a world of 'bastards' [...]".27. It is thus through identification with the great figures of national history on the one hand, and with modern heroes on the other, that the young member grasps the full scope of his commitment and becomes convinced of the validity of the cause he is defending.

The imminence of danger or the nation in peril. The nation, whether it is presented as "sick" in Poland or under threat of external aggression, calls for the full mobilization of every individual who must fulfil his moral duty as a patriot. Personal commitment thus becomes the absolute condition for the country's survival and the restoration of its lost power.

Finally, it should be stressed that, like any discourse, the military-patriotic discourse as used in these countries is based on representations: symbols, ceremonies, codes and rites specific to each organization and echoing the recurrent themes mentioned above.


These youth organisations have a special place in society. They are integrated into national defence systems, albeit on varying scales, and participate actively in national defence policies. However, their level of integration is not uniform. Differentiation allows national specificities to be highlighted. This differentiation takes place at three levels: full integration, supplementary integration and prospective integration.

The three Baltic countries provide a perfect example of full integration of youth organisations in the defence system. As a fully-fledged branch of the National Guard, sometimes referred to as the "Territorial Defence Force", these movements are assigned an active role in the daily activities of the armed forces and assigned specific missions in identified invasion scenarios.

However, while the contribution in terms of volume may seem derisory in comparison with the Russian forces, for example, the role of the Baltic National Guard would not be to oppose it to a conventional invasion force, but to provide assistance to the population and protect the infrastructure. The Ukrainian crisis and its modus operandi, in particular the exploitation of Russian-speaking populations and the use of "little green men", has had a profound effect on the Baltic republics. With Russian minorities accounting for almost a quarter of the population In Latvia and Estonia, the fear of a scenario similar to that which plunged Ukraine into civil war is real. However, it is precisely in the case of a hybrid conflict that their use is thought of, with youth organisations posing as a real "force-multiplier mechanism" in this respect.34. Close to the populations and benefiting from a strong territorial anchorage, these organisations are better able to counter subversive actions and disinformation campaigns than regular troops. Moreover, their substitution missions would make it possible to increase the availability of conventional forces and avoid a phenomenon of force dispersal.

In Poland, the Shooters have been gradually integrated into the defence system since 2017. With the aim of forming a "fifth corps of the Polish army" (the Territorial Defence Force - TDF)35In the event of a Russian invasion, the Strzelecs would be called upon to support the regular army by operating on the enemy's rear to wage a partisan war. This integration can be qualified as supplementary, because its members would not then be considered as an integral part of the regular army.This integration can be described as supplementary, since its members would then not be considered as an integral part of the regular army, but precisely as supplementary elements, intended to complete a military system incapable of competing with conventional Russian means. If the Shooters claim a total of 500,000 members (including youths and adults), the following would apply36However, it is difficult to prove the truth of this statement. Unlike its Russian and Baltic counterparts, the Polish organisation is not a centralised body, but is made up of a mosaic of local and regional units that are difficult to identify. Thus, the number of 500,000 seems slightly overestimated and their total strength is more likely to be closer to 25,000, or about 24% of the active armed forces. The FDT, for its part, currently has 17,000 personnel and is expected to reach 53,000 by 2023.37.

This decision appears to be a turning point in the use of force doctrine. The preferred crisis scenario being a massive invasion from the eastern and northern borders, Poland is seeking to strengthen its defence apparatus by giving a role to paramilitary groups. The latter have been placed since 2014 under the authority of the Ministry of Defence.38 and integrated into the Territorial Defense Force. Trained in asymmetric combat tactics, specialized in urban combat and skilled in survival techniques in the wooded areas that dot the country, these groups (to which the Strzelec belong) would have two main tasks in the event of an invasion. On the one hand, they would form a second or even third line of defence, intended to relieve the regular army by guaranteeing the protection of infrastructures and sensitive points located at the rear of the front. On the other hand, in the event of a dislocation of the Polish system, the FDT would aim to wage a partisan war on the enemy's rear. It is therefore with a view to mobility and flexibility that the FDT would have opted for a light infantry doctrine and a territorial-type organisation. Eventually, seventeen brigades (one brigade per voivodship) would be formed.39 and two brigades in Mazovia) would be placed at the disposal of a specific command in the FDT, itself answerable to the Polish Armed Forces General Staff.40.

Finally, the military-patriotic movement Younarmia could be perceived as being the object of prospective integration: unlike the other organisations mentioned, Younarmia is not and is not intended to be a fighting unit in its own right. While young people are trained in the use of weapons and military exercises, Younarmia's priority objective seems to be to prepare them for military service, in particular by encouraging them to consider a professional career in the army. With its 272,000 members, Younarmia is a potentially significant resource of experienced and motivated men and women for an army suffering from many internal problems, including its conscription system. The creation of Younarmia could thus be seen as one of the consequences of the overhaul of Russian military doctrine published in 2014. The document41 advocates, among other things, the modernisation of the armed forces, echoing debates on the sustainability of the conscription system and the creation of a professional army. Although the issue has still not been resolved, military service remains a major problem in contemporary Russia. Highly unpopular with young people, military service is struggling to attract new recruits. In fact, very few conscripts do their military service and there are many methods of circumventing it, although the means to do so must be available.

The army has thus gradually become a receptacle for the most disadvantaged sections of society: only the most destitute, the marginalized and the idle go into the armed forces. Moreover, despite the efforts made by the State in recent years, the living conditions of conscripts have not fundamentally improved. One of the most revealing manifestations of this precarious situation is the dedovshchina. The term "dedovshchina" refers to all the violent practices inflicted by the oldest conscripts on the youngest conscripts.42. It is distinguished from simple hazing by its brutality, intensity, impunity and persistence over time. Seriously damaging to the physical and moral integrity of its victims, its effects are often dramatic. The Sytchev case provides a tragic demonstration of this.43. Moreover, it undermines the morale and cohesion of the Russian troops, considerably reducing their operational capabilities, which was also highlighted by the Chechen episodes. However, the creation of an organisation inculcating military values in young people at an early age, providing them with preliminary training and orienting them towards a military career, also appears to be an effective tool for remedying the defects of the conscription system.

18 Term used by Younarmia on its official website: (accessed December 17, 2018).

19 This language element was found on one of the Strzelec sites: (accessedDecember 17 ,2018 ).

20 Marlène Laruelle, "Patriotisme, nationalisme, xénophobie," in Gilles Favarel-Garrigues, Kathy Rousselet et al, La Russie contemporaine, Paris, Fayard, 2010, p.350.

21 Iskender Yasaveev, "Militarization of the 'National Idea': the New Interpretation of Patriotism by the Russian Authorities", CSS ETHZ, Russian Analytical Digest, No. 207, 26 September 2017, pp. 12-14.

22 Ibid.

23 Anne Le Huérou & Élisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, Military Culture and Patriotism in Today's Russia, op. cit. p. 15.

24 Marlène Laruelle, "Patriotism, nationalism, xenophobia", in Gilles Favarel-Garrigues, Kathy Rousselet et al, La Russie contemporaine, Paris, Fayard, 2010, p. 349.

25 Joseph Pilsudski (1867-1935): Polish soldier and politician; figure of the independence of the Second Republic of Poland (1918-1939).

26 Alexander V. Suvorov (1730-1800): Generalissimo in the service of the Russian Empire; undefeated military leader.

27 Valérie Pozner, "Le cinéma: quelle industrie pour quelles images depuis la fin du siècle soviétique? "in La Russie contemporaine, op. cit. pp. 419-432.

28 According to the data available on the official website of Younarmia: (consulted on December17, 2018).

29 Based on data available on the official website of the Jeunes Fusiliers: (accessed December 17 , 2018).

30 Based on data available on the official website of the Young Guard: (accessedDecember 17 , 2018).

31 Based on data available on the official websites of the Young Eagles: (accessed December 17,2018) and the Filles au Foyer: (accessed December17,2018) .

32 Territorial Defence Force (Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej, WOT). 6 - January 2019

33 Based on data from the Central Intelligence Agency, "CIA World Factbook," Library, Publications, The World Factbook, 2018, online:, accessed 17 December 2018.

34 État-Major de l'Armée de Terre, Action Terrestre Future, Paris, September 2016, p. 39.

35 According to the reform initiated by conservative Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz.

36 There are no statistics on the proportion of young people in the workforce.

37 Hans von der Brelie, 'Poland: Meeting with Michal, a member of one of the oldest paramilitary groups', Euronews, 29 May 2017, online at:, accessed 17 December 2018.

38 Jean-Sylvestre and Jeanne Dubois-Grasset, "La Pologne, acteur géostratégique émergent et puissance européenne", Thomas More Institute, News Release 51, June 2018, online at /2018/06/30/la-pologne-ac teur-geostrategic-emerging actor and european power/#_e tn21, accessed 17 December 201 8.

39 Name given to the administrative regions of Poland.

40 According to the explanations given by the FDT spokesman, Lt. Col. Marek Pietrzak. Thomasz Modzelewski, "Ppłk. Marek Pietrzak:Będzie centrum szkolenia WOT [rozmowa]," Dziennik Bałticki, Opinie, 16 August 2017, online:, accessed 17 December 2017.

41 26 December 2014, online at, accessed 17December 2018.

42 Daucé Françoise and Sieca-Kozlowski Elisabeth, Dedovshchina in the post-soviet militar y: hazing of Russian army conscripts in a comparative perspective, Stuttgar t, Ibidem, 2006.

Title : ⚡️ The militarization of youth in the post-Soviet space 2/3
Author (s) : M. Pierre MOUGEL, du pôle études et prospectives du CDEC