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By Oksana Yablokova

Alternative Service Bill Approved

The Moscow Times, June 20, 2002

After four hours of heated debate, the State Duma approved the government-backed bill on alternative military service in a crucial second reading Wednesday, tweaking it only slightly despite a protest from liberal lawmakers that it remained draconian. About 300 amendments -- mostly from the liberals -- have been submitted to the Duma since the bill was passed in the first reading in April. However, the four pro-Kremlin centrist factions that form the Duma's majority blocked the passage of most of them.

Lawmakers passed the bill with a vote of 274-3. Under the bill, a man of conscript age will be required to prove his pacifist views to a special committee. He will be required to serve 21 months if he has a higher education degree and 3 1/2 years without it. That is a slight modification from the bill passed in the first reading, which required four years of service for university nongraduates and two years for graduates. Liberals had wanted, however, to cut the term to three years for nongraduates and 18 months for graduates.

"The tendency of this debate is clearly to turn the bill on alternative service into the law on alternative slavery," Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party, said on TVS television during the debate.

Liberal Union of Right Forces deputy head Alexander Barannikov declared the vote "a victory of the military lobby."

Vladimir Lysenko of the centrist Russia's Regions party said the government had backed the amendments submitted by the liberals but the military had "somehow managed to convince the president that Russia does not need a democratic law on alternative service."

Deputies debated the need to prove one's pacifist beliefs, but no changes were made to the stipulation. A draftee will be required to prove his beliefs in order to qualify for alternative service, and the special draft commission will have the right to reject his application if it finds his arguments unconvincing.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma's legislation committee, said ahead of the vote that the necessity to prove one's beliefs will open the door to more corruption as bureaucrats on the committee will jump at the opportunity to take bribes, Interfax reported.

Also hotly debated was a part of the bill defining where draftees will be required to carry out alternative service. Liberal deputies said conscripts should serve where they reside and be sent to other cities or regions only if there is no work for them at home. But the Duma decided that the military should determine where to send conscripts. Liberals and human rights advocates have warned that civil servicemen who are forced to work on military bases will be targets for abuse from soldiers.

Deputies voted Wednesday to shave six months off alternative service for those who perform their terms in military quarters. The term for compulsory military service is two years.

The Duma must now pass the bill in a final reading that is usually merely a formality. The legislation then goes to the Federation Council and President Vladimir Putin for approval.

If implemented as expected in 2004, the bill will end a discrepancy between the Constitution and the practice of compulsory military service. The 1993 Constitution grants draftees the right to seek alternative service if they cannot perform military service for ethical or religious reasons.

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The Moscow Times, June 20, 2002

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