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Old-style “grandfather” hazing may have killed conscript: 37 recent suicides in Belarus

Belarus death and excerpt:

MINSK — Investigators in Belarus say 10 servicemen have been charged in connection with the death of a private who was found hanged after complaining that he had been hazed and pressured for money by superiors.

In an October 31 statement, the Investigative Committee said that eight sergeants, one ensign, and one lieutenant in the Belarusian military were charged over the death of Alyaksandr Korzhych.

The statement did not specify the charges. It said that another officer, a captain who has not been arrested or charged, is also a suspect in the case.

Korzhych, 21, was found hanging in the basement of the medical unit at the Pechy military training base northeast of Minsk on October 3, less than five months after he was drafted. His feet were bound with a shoestring, and a T-shirt cloaked his head.

The conscript’s relatives say he complained of being the target of hazing by senior officers. In particular, he told family and friends that he was being pressured for money by his superiors.

Korzhych was the second conscript found hanged at an army base in Belarus in less than six months, sparking a debate about hazing in the army and calls for the defense minister’s resignation.

The Investigative Committee initially said it was a suicide.

But after Korzhych’s relatives and human rights activists started a campaign urging authorities to investigate the death, the committee launched an investigation into suspected violations of army regulations, abuse of authority, and fraud.

Hazing has been a serious problem in militaries throughout the former Soviet Union, with pressure for payments frequently reported by victims.

In Belarus, 37 suicides were registered in the armed forces between 2008 and 2017, according to Defense Ministry statistics.

In 2017 alone, there were four suicides in the Belarusian armed forces, according to media reports.

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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