Compulsory army service
I have come to know Lithuania as a peaceful country, with hardly any police and soldiers around to keep the order. Knowing about the compulsory military service for young men, I was expecting to see at least some uniformed young lads in the street, but have not been able to find any of those today.
From the first interview onwards and right until the end of the day, everybody tells me that they try to avoid being sent off to the army. Robertas (19) will be invited to join his one-year military service this year. As a student, he can postpone his service until he reaches the age of 26. After that, the obligation elapses. He is not the only one using his `studentship` as a way to escape the service. Another Robertas (21) tells me the same story and many after him will follow. Apart from being a student, many people pretend being handicapped or otherwise physically unable to do the job.
`The conscription system we have for the army does not make sense`
Saulius (34) explains me how the army used to be even more unpopular during the Soviet times. It was not easy to escape from service with the Red Army. At the time, Saulius spent two weeks in a mental hospital in order not to have to join the military. The worst moment to be a Lithuanian soldier was right after Lithuania declared its independence and before that very same independence was recognised by the Soviet Union. Lithuanian soldiers were bullied by their Soviet comrades. As just one example, Saulius tells me about his brother who was given shoes one size too small.
Tomas (22, photo) sees no point in joining the army. He says it is only useful to people who have nothing else to do and would otherwise do nothing. I wonder what soldiers actually when they serve with the army. `Basically just physical education and practising`, says Tomas. `It would have cost me a whole year and now that I don`t go, I can spend that year in a much more useful way.` He does think it is useful for some people, as it is a good method of educating discipline.
Ladies at work
Girls are not convoked for military service. However, Kristina (20), who is the manager of the local youth hostel and whom I also interviewed two days ago, tells me how she voluntarily chose to join the army. She is a dancer and the military training was very useful to her, both physically and mentally. She feels stronger after having spent one year among soldiers, running in the bushes and doing survival camps.
Another girl by the same first name, Kristina (23), has a quite opposite opinion. She would not have liked to join the army even if she had to. It often means being away from your family, working on a tiny salary for a whole year`s time. She is happy to soon see the compulsory army service being replaced by a professional one. Right now, there is a military academy in Vilnius which educated students to take high positions in the army. Girls are admitted as well, but unlike men, they will not oftentimes be sent out to crisis region. Lithuania currently has troops abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. The soldiers serving in these countries have been expatriated with their own consent. If insufficient people sign up for these services however, individual soldiers will simply be selected by their superiors.
All these mostly negative opinions do make me curious to find out what soldiers do while on duty. None of my interviewees get any further that practise and practise. Military parades are not very popular. When I insist a little, the army turn out to provide assistance in emergency situations. The Nemunas River tends to cause floods every spring and at that occasion, the army often extends a helping hand. Other tasks include the protection of the land and see borders of Lithuania, although much of that task is carried out by NATO forces. Upon arrival, each soldier may be deployed at the discretion of the officer who receives them on the first day of service. Naval soldiers go to Klaipeda, while Air Force and other military departments are located in the east of the country.
I suspect that the Lithuanians have grown averse of too much military show-off. They have acquired independence in an peaceful way. Many youngsters would consider join the army if the country were in danger, but they do not feel any pressing need to do it now. Lithuania nowadays does not suffer from any urgent external threats and people simply have other things on their mind.
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