Aux armes citoyens!
Unlike the Baltics, Finland managed quite well in preserving its own territory during World War II. Fierce forest fights against Russia helped Finland largely maintain its easterly frontier. Over 10 000 man died on the Finnish side, while more than 100 000 Russian soldiers did not survive the battle for Finland. Although Finland has faced no forreign threat to its nation after the Second World War ended, it still requires its male citizens to serve up to twelve months in the army. The two only alternatives are to find a 13-month civil service placement, or to spend 6 months in jail.
The EU and Amnesty International claim that imprisonment of service objectors is illegal. But that doesn`t keep it from happening and all of the people I speak to today know of friends or acquaintances who served a few months in jail. Antti (28) had a friend who refused to go to the army and did not want to do civil service. The result was a six month stay in jail.
`I thought my army service would last for 9 months, but I has to stay another 3`
Antti himself, like many others, did respond to the convocation. He ended up as a medical assistant during his service. He explains me that different people get different posts, based on their education before joining the army, and possibly slightly taking the preferences of the recruit in consideration. The length of the service ranges from six to twelve and is largely dependent on what job you will be doing and can be prolonged to your officer`s likings.
Although the Finnish boys - girls are exempt but can join voluntarily - are free to wait until the age of 30 before they fulfil the service. Many take it immediately, because it is not very pleasant to be subjected to the military system at an older age, when you may have developed a certain lifestyle of your own. Military service is therefore often a goodbye to the family. Army service is likely to be followed by picking up studies, which is for many youngsters a reason to look for a place of their own.
Beside military service, boys can also choose to fulfil civil service. The authorities are not really pushing people in this direction: the minimum service will in that case amount to 13 months. Additionally, people taking this alternative must find their own placement and have it approved. It can be in healthcare or sometimes even cultural products that serve the community in one way or another.
Civil service is often thought to be for softies and you may have to defend your choice once you apply for jobs in later life. Army service is thought to make men out of boys, which is also the way Tiina (22) sees it. During their service, the boys are no fun to be with. First of all because they only come home during the weekends, secondly because they will only talk about the army and sleeping in the forest at -30?C. `It generally takes them about three months to act normal again, but then at least they have become a bit more grown-up, and are no longer spending their days playing video games`, says Tiina.
Ville (22, photo) completed his service 2 years ago. He served in the Airforce as a truck driver. After the basic training, consisting of cleaning arms, making up beds and do extreme versions of scouting, he obtained a driver`s licence and ended up transporting gasoline from the West Coast to the military airport. He initially planned to stay for 9 months but was told that `he was needed` for another 3 months.
As stated above, refusing service is illegal. You may not be elegible to do service because of diseases or deficiencies. Even though more and more people at least attempt to walk this path, they can not count on much sympathy from the community. Vesa (41) says that he was not too positive about the army when he served, but that he does see the use of it now. `People in Finland have too many choices and they often do not use that freedom in the right way. The army service also learns them to work on something that they don`t like and simply have to endure. That will help them make better choices in the future and be more aware about what they do.`
Conscripts have no need to fear excursions to Iraq and other war zones. Even the professional Finnish army does not force its employees to participate. Soldiers must make an explicit choice to serve on such missions, and they will be part of a UN force rather than a Finnish national service. It is expected that this separation of services will remain in force for the years to come, and also the compulsory service is expected to remain a part of every Finnish young man`s life.
Last additional info for today: inhabitants of the Aland Islands (between the Finnish mainland and Schiphol) are exempt from service. Foreigners who have acquired Finnish citizenship by immigrating do need to comply with the normal system. Which `even helps them integrate better into Finnish society`, says Vesa, who further adds that the army service is a perfect occasion to learn discipline and teamwork, attributes which may come in very handy at later stages in life.
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