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Those nobles who attempted to escape from obligatory military service to the Russian Empire, the "нетчики", performed "нетство".

I wonder if, with some creativity, "нетство" could potentially also apply to the related situation of someone seeking to avoid conscription in the imperial army.

If I said that a man fleeing the draft was also doing "нетство", would that be a stretch? Surprising? Inappropriate?

Your guidance would be appreciated.

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    Is it for a history research? Only I'm afraid that an average person in the streets simply wouldn't understand neither "нетство" nor "нетчик". These words fell out of use long ago. And in the context of scientific books, sticking to precise meaning seems so much better than stretching it.
    – Igor G
    Nov 16, 2023 at 14:58
  • @IgorG Yes, for historiography, and definitely with context. I want to draw an analogy between these behaviors, and this specific word is very appealing. Nov 16, 2023 at 16:51
  • Could you please explain the difference between "escape from obligatory military service" and "seeking to avoid conscription"?
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 17, 2023 at 2:50
  • @Quassnoi I believe that the nobles were meant to do their state service as officers commanding some of their own serfs, whereas the conscripts (who were neither nobles nor serfs) were meant to enlist and take orders. Nov 17, 2023 at 5:32
  • So are you asking if нетчик was applied to poll taxpayers who had deserted the army?
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 17, 2023 at 23:05

3 Answers 3

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The word нетчик, when it was a thing, was applied only to the nobility.

To answer your question, some modern authors do apply it to lower classes who failed to report for service:

Нетчики сбивались в шайки воров и разбойников, которые порой становились довольно опасными. Подобные банды существовали в Клинском, Волоцком, Можайском, Белозерском, Пошехонском и Старорусском уездах, причем порой нетчики нападали на воинские отряды, конвоировавшие призывников к местам прохождения службы, и отбивали рекрутов. Отбитые, таким образом, сами становились нетчиками и вливались в бандформирования.

I'm not sure it's a good usage of this word, but apparently this journalist's idea of creativity isn't far from yours.


That said, I don't really think the concept of "evading conscription" is applicable to poll taxpayer classes (податные сословия), i.e. serfs and proletarians.

Natural tax duties like military service were not personal obligations for these classes. When a draft was called, it was up to the community (мир) to decide what family would supply the recruit, and it was up to the family to decide on the actual man who was to perform the service. This decision had to be communicated to the draft commission. Some communities implemented turn systems or draft lotteries, others decided it at community meetings.

The family in question had two legal options to avoid the draft: either hire someone who would volunteer instead of them, or reimburse the government for the volunteers hired directly by the government by buying a special document (рекрутская зачётная квитанция). If they were influential within their community, they would rather expend the political capital and pressure the community meeting (сход) to select another family, even if it was their turn to supply the recruit. Of course, all these options and combinations thereof were widely employed.

Before this decision was communicated, there was no personal obligation for anyone to serve in the army.

After it was communicated, the man was technically enlisted. Failure to report for service would count as desertion, and the deserter's family would have to pay or supply another recruit.

So it's not quite clear to me what exactly counts as "conscription evasion" as opposed to "being lucky enough to avoid the draft" or "desertion".

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  • Thank you for this historically rich answer and usage example. You are right that the most common kind of conscription was community-based and subject to different kinds of evasions too. The example I am working with has to do with cantonists, the soldiers' sons who were expected to enlist upon graduation from military schools. Nov 19, 2023 at 5:54
  • @AaronBrick: of course there is no law against using it as a metaphor, but нетчик is just too special a word for that, and too tied to the era of its usage. It would be the same as calling buying a house "enfeoffment" on the basis that the deed has the words "to have and to hold in fee simple forever". There is the ironic expression пребывает в нетях ("whereabouts unknown"), used to this day, ultimately derived from this concept, which is perfectly applicable.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 19, 2023 at 6:23
  • What a masterful response — informative, historical and beautifully written. Bravo!
    – CocoPop
    Nov 19, 2023 at 14:28
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That's not a word I recognize as a native speaker. I'd call a conscientious objector an "отказник", and someone who just dodges the draft for personal reasons (fear, dislike of the military lifestyle, money, girls, etc) an "уклонист".

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I've never come across either нетство or нетчик(-и) in speech or in writing. Both sound dated, bookish and somewhat effeminate to me. I suggest not using them at all.

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    effeminate? that's a weird assessment Nov 18, 2023 at 2:09
  • @Ivan Milyakov H.L. Mencken said once: being a woman is in itself a terrific experience. Russian (old-fashioned) ladies do have peculiar vocabulary, word usage and maner of speaking to distinguish themselves from us yet. I've just heard a poetry guru mention "masculine rhymes".
    – inkpenpen
    Nov 29, 2023 at 7:43

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