A new word, “hazing,” has washed onto the pages of the Soviet press with the wave of glasnost. It denotes the harassment, oppression, and humiliation suffered by new conscripts, “greenhorns,” at the hands of “grandfathers”—the Soviet term for soldiers who are nearing the end of their conscription term. The subject was broached by Yuri Polyakov in his story “A Hundred Days to the Discharge Order” printed in the November 1987 issue of the magazine Yunost. Polyakov gave a chilling depiction of the mores prevailing in today’s Soviet armed forces, the hazing and the petty tyranny of the NCO’s. Newspapers have been bombarded ever since with letters from readers—both laudatory and condemnatory. The national press is still pursuing the subject. The army newspaper Krasnaya zvezda recently weighed in with an article, “Beyond the Black Pale,” by its special correspondent A. Khorev. He does not attempt to refute the fact of hazing in the armed forces but blames such “non-regulation relationships” on the “period of stagnation” in Soviet history. Of course, it is easy to agree with Krasnaya zvezda‘s special correspondent when he observes that “it has long been known, correctly, that the armed forces are society in microcosm.”

On the other hand, many members of the armed services, both privates and officers, attack Polyakov’s credibility and declare, in articles and letters-to-the-editor, that hazing is a figment of the writer’s imagination. Thus, the magazine Sovetsky patriot on March 2 published an “open letter” to the author of the hit story. The letter under the tide “At Odds With the Truth” was penned by serviceman Yuri Fedorko, who insists that hazing is nowhere to be found in today’s armed forces and that the environment described by Polyakov is nothing other than a “fictional, abstract army.”

Unfortunately, many current articles and letter columns leave no doubt that hazing is very much in evidence in the services. Small wonder, for “the armed forces are society in microcosm,” as Krasnaya zvezda correctly pointed out. So long as “regulation relationships” are being violated in society at large, how could the services escape the problem? Under the Soviet constitution, supreme power in the country should reside with the freely elected Soviets—from the bottom to the very top. In reality, the party and its “shield and sword,” the KGB, wield monopoly power. Under the constitution, all Soviet republics have joined the union on a voluntary basis and can secede any time they wish . . . And so it goes in all spheres of Soviet life. glasnost has merely highlighted what used to be hidden from view.

So far the Soviet press has given no evidence that career officers engage in “assault and battery.” And so a question arises: if the planned reforms and “learning at the school of democratization” hit a rocky road and result in large-scale strife—like the current disturbances in Azerbaijan and Armenia—who will become the target of the resentment and hatred of the veterans who once suffered as “greenhorns” and subsequently meted out suffering as “grandfathers”?