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Injustice for all: Belarus: Alexander Korzhych and Artyom Bastyuk

Hazing outrage in Belarus: Remembering Alexander Korzhych, 21

 

Excerpt from Jamestown.org

Korzhych’s feet were bound with a shoestring and a T-shirt was covering his head. Moreover, he had earlier complained to his parents about hazing. So-called dedovshchina, a particular kind of hazing whereby petty officers and older conscripts mistreat younger draftees, has long been a known scourge of the Soviet army and was apparently inherited by some Armed Forces of the successor states (Tut.by, October 14). Now, dedovshchina is often exacerbated by extortion, whereby younger conscripts are forced to pay a ransom in order to avoid beatings. This practice allegedly flourished in Korzhych’s unit.

Some observers were quick to suggest dedovshchina is so difficult to fight because it is part and parcel of an authoritarian political regime that itself is based on strict hierarchy and expected unconditional subordination of the bottom to the top. A person with damaged willpower and a fear of superiors is easier to manipulate and subjugate (Svaboda.org, October 13). While such an opinion is not without grounds, it may rest on a classic case of spurious correlation. Both dedovshchina and a popular demand for a particular type of top–down leadership may simply (though separately) be integral to the social fabric of some national communities. To be sure, proponents of cultural universalism would militate against this point of view, arguing instead that everybody inherently wants to embrace Western behavioral norms just as much as everybody wants a clean environment. This perspective, however, defies cultural studies. Incidentally, at the October 17 plenary session of the First Belarusian Philosophical Congress, in Minsk (Philosophy.by, October 18), Luca Maria Scarantino, the secretary general of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, criticized Western universalism by casting doubt on the assertion that all cultures would behave identically if bestowed with freedom (Conference attended by author, October 17).

Returning to Korzhych’s tragic episode, it has generated an unusually broad debate domestically—unusual because his is by no means the first death of a young conscript in Belarus. Indeed, six months ago, Artyom Bastyuk, yet another Belarusian draftee, died under suspicious circumstances (Naviny, October 12); but at that point, no public discussion followed.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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