Army reform 2006: conscripts no longer wanted

From 2006 mandatory conscription in the Slovak Army will be abolished, ending various problems young conscripts now face before and after being drafted.
The government approved the Slovak Army reform plan, called Model 2010, on October 24. The changes will see army staff cut in half by 2010 from the current 42,000 to 24,500, while the current nine-month conscription period will be abolished in five years.
Conscripts, most of whom range in age from 19 to 26, today comprise 38% of total army staff.

From 2006 mandatory conscription in the Slovak Army will be abolished, ending various problems young conscripts now face before and after being drafted.

The government approved the Slovak Army reform plan, called Model 2010, on October 24. The changes will see army staff cut in half by 2010 from the current 42,000 to 24,500, while the current nine-month conscription period will be abolished in five years.

Conscripts, most of whom range in age from 19 to 26, today comprise 38% of total army staff.

Although the decision will affect mainly today's 13-year-olds, young men who have already served their time also praised the decision.

"It was a waste of time," said Ján M., a 26 year-old car mechanic from Banská Bystrica, of his compulsory army service. "You have to leave your job, if you are lucky enough to have one, and go somewhere you don't want to go."

Slovak men are still subject to army service from the age of 18. Before 1989, young men were obliged to serve in the army for two years before moving on to develop careers and families. But many now think the current nine-month army service, or the 13-month civil service in hospitals or social centres which can be chosen as a substitute for military service, is a waste of human resources.

Milan Ištván, a Member of Parliament for the Democratic Left Party, said that because the army was cash-strapped, more than 15,000 young conscripts were now waiting to be called for service, a process which sometimes took a year or even longer, during which time their lives were effectively on hold.

"This wait is especially frustrating, because until they've gone through the army service, it's difficult for them to find a job. Employees prefer men who've already been in the army," he said, referring to a Labour Code rule which requires employers to reserve jobs for young male employees taken to army service, just as they must do for female employees who become pregnant.

Ištván added that conscripts even frequently tried to "give bribes in order to be called to the army as soon as possible and finally get the service behind them."

"Nobody wants to hire a person who will have to leave whenever the army calls him, and for whom the employer will have to find a replacement," said Ján M. He added that many of his pre-service friends were forced to register as unemployed because they could not find jobs.

Conscription is no more popular among university educated men. Many university students take part time jobs during their studies, but find that conscription stops them from pursuing their young careers, as the army is unable to make use of their skills.

Major-General František Butko, head of the Defence Ministry's personnel department, admitted October 30 that this was one of the main reasons why army service was not popular among young men.

"Not all conscripts can improve in what they've studied or get better in their original professions," he said.

Although Ištván said that lawyers or economists could sometimes be helpful as advisors to the heads of their military units, Butko admitted that due to lack of cash the army could not offer the opportunity to everyone.

"Because of the limited finances, we can't even make sure that all units are properly trained. Thus, many soldiers may indeed feel useless in the army," he said.

But Butko also believed the unpopularity of military service lay in the fact that the army is very different from civilian life.

"Life in army barracks requires discipline. Conscripts must respect their superiors, and must obey their orders. Not all young men are prepared for such a way of life, and not all are able to cope with it," he said.

Some people still believed that army service was "a good lesson for young men," said Ivan Koreň, 59, from Bratislava.

"The service makes men out of boys and teaches them order and discipline. And you can meet friends for life there."

But Butko added: "Making the army fully professional can only help. It will allow for a more intense and effective training of professional soldiers which can increase morale and discipline in the army."

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