punishment and education: from the history of the guardhouse

The famous “lip” was feared by many servicemen. And many have had a chance to visit it. The history of the guardhouses of the Russian army – special guard rooms where guilty servicemen can be placed in custody, has more than three hundred years.

From Tsarist to Soviet: how the guardhouse developed in Russia

Translated from the German language, Hauptwache means “the main guard”. As the name suggests, the first guardhouses appeared in Central and Western Europe, in the German kingdoms and principalities. These were the premises of the city guards, in which sometimes they could also contain temporarily arrested persons for subsequent escort.

For the first time guard houses appeared in Russia in 1707 on the initiative of Peter I. The first guardhouse was built on Sennaya Square in St. Petersburg. According to the established tradition, in other cities, guardhouses began to be placed in the main squares. It was in Russia that a guardhouse began to be understood as a special type of punishment for military personnel, which slightly changed the original content of this military term. After all, say, in most other countries of the world, the analogue of a guardhouse is the concept of a “military prison”.

In pre-revolutionary Russia, soldiers were subjected to corporal punishment for offenses and negligent service. Therefore, only an officer could be “locked up” in the guardhouse. Everything changed after the abolition of corporal punishment: the soldiers had to somehow be held accountable for their misconduct, and they also began to be put under arrest in the guardroom.

The history of guardhouses in Russian cities is full of sad events. Yet these are, in fact, prisons, and prisons are always tragedies, small or large. For example, in Vyborg, as a result of Lavr Kornilov’s speech, by a resolution of the Council, General OA Oranovsky, Major General VN Vasiliev, Major General FV Stepanov and Lieutenant Colonel Kurenius were arrested and taken into custody in the Vyborg guardhouse. On August 29, 1917, they were killed by revolutionary soldiers, and their bodies were thrown from the bridge into the bay.

Guardhouse of the Vyborg Fortress (cafe “on the lip”)

In Soviet times, placement in custody in a guardhouse became the main method of punishing guilty servicemen of any rank. Of course, most often the clients of the “lip” (as the Russian military used to russify the “guardhouse” to simplify the term) were privates and sergeants, but there were exceptions when “whole colonels” came to the guardhouse. Often, not so much for the purpose of real punishment for the committed act, as for “educational” purposes. But the cases were different. Sometimes one did not interfere with the other.

In fact, the Soviet guardhouse has become an analogue of foreign military prisons. There was no concept of a “military prison” in the USSR and in Russia: the military who committed offenses and crimes could either be arrested and taken into custody in the guardhouse, or sent to a disciplinary battalion (privates and sergeants), or, after a court verdict, discharged from military service and sent to a regular “civilian” correctional institution.

How the guardhouse has changed in modern Russia and why

Until 2002, a company commander could be placed in a guardhouse for a serious disciplinary offense for up to 3 days. For 10 days, superior officers could be placed in a guardhouse. In 2002, servicemen began to be placed in guardhouses, in respect of whom investigative actions were carried out.

Throughout the nineties of the twentieth century, the very existence of a guardhouse was a “red rag” for Russian human rights defenders: they repeatedly demanded the abolition of this type of disciplinary punishment, referring to international law. Ultimately, Russia, having joined the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, was forced to reconsider its attitude towards guardhouses.

This was done in 2002, already under President Vladimir Putin. By the decree of the head of state dated June 30, 2002 “On Amendments to the General Military Regulations of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”, the right of a commander to impose arrest on a serviceman was excluded from the disciplinary charter. In July 2002, the guardhouse was abolished, and all references to it were excluded from the statutes.

Military police. It is her servicemen who carry out the tasks of protecting the guardhouses.

However, like many other ill-considered decisions, the abolition of the guardhouse did not have the best effect on the state of order in the units and subdivisions of the Russian army and navy. As a result, already in 2006, the same Putin allows military courts to apply disciplinary arrest to servicemen. However, the rules of placement under disciplinary arrest have changed: now only a military tribunal can make a decision on placing a serviceman in a guardhouse, the commander does not have such a right.

The grounds for admitting servicemen to the guardhouse and keeping them there are formalized in accordance with the procedure established by the legislation of the Russian Federation: a copy of the order of the judge of the garrison military court on the application of disciplinary arrest (court decision on the execution of the sentence) – for servicemen subjected to disciplinary arrest (sentenced to arrest); a copy of the verdict – for those convicted by a military court; a copy of the court decision on detention, a copy of the arrest protocol or the protocol on the application of measures to ensure the proceedings on the materials of the disciplinary offense – for detained military personnel,

– reads the appendix to the Charter of the Military Police of the Russian Federation.

History has shown that an army can exist without a guardhouse, but discipline, as they say, often needs to be adjusted. There will always be soldiers who violate discipline, commit disciplinary offenses, crimes. What to do with a soldier who left the unit without permission and came intoxicated? Or swearing at the commander? You cannot bring him to criminal responsibility with a real term of imprisonment, and there is no need for him. But the “lip” often helped to “cool” the ardor and come to oneself, however, it also had a downside – the cases of settling accounts with the “disloyal” from the commanders.

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