Every Greek capable of bearing arms is obliged to contribute to the defence of the Fatherland as provided by law.Art. 4, Greek Constitution
So recites the article 4 of the Greek constitution, introducing the concept of conscription (mandatory military service) in the Hellenic country.
As of 2009, all Greek males between the ages of 18 and 45 must serve in the Army for 9 months, 12 in the case of the Navy and the Air Force. Every year thousands of young greeks leave their homes in order to reach one of the many military bases scattered all over the country and receive their training.
It is a reality that many young Europeans of the same age could quite hardly understand. Over the course of the last years, most of the countries of the EU have abolished conscription. Only Greece, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania and Cyprus are left. For many others, the military service is a memory of the past. Something belonging to the generation of their parents or grandparents.
A rite of passage
In Greece, it is still a significant part of the society. Many Greeks perceive their Army as an important necessity due to the threat of neighbouring countries, and they still treat soldiers with respect and admiration. For years most of young Greeks have considered it a necessary rite of passage. A way to experience adulthood for the first time away from their families. The majority of the draftees (the conscripted) cite camaraderie as the biggest gift of the military service: mutual trust and friendship.
Many still defend conscription adamantly, claiming that the numbers of the Greek population (about ten million) does not allow them to have an army of volunteers, like in bigger countries. Nevertheless, in the last years, the ranks of the draft evaders (people who never show up for the service) have risen to more than 30,000. More and more young Greeks consider the whole experience as a waste of time. Mainly because of the repetitive tasks and chores of the daily army life, such as cooking and cleaning. If in the past those activities could actually help in the growth of the youngsters, more and more draftees show up for the service at a later age. They have already graduated from university, and achieved independence and maturity. The actual military training received could probably be hardly effective in the case of a real emergency, being only a few months.
What about greek women?
Another issue in the whole system is the marked patriarchal aspect. Women can enrol willingly but they do not require them to join. The reason behind it is perhaps an antiquated mindset, who perceive women as bound to the fireplace and the care of the family and men to the “defence of the Fatherland”. Nevertheless, examples of female conscription exist in other countries, like Norway or Israel.
The alternatives to the service
The possibility of choosing an alternative to the military time (the so-called alternative service, like volunteering in hospitals or retirement houses) is hardly an option in Greece. The time of the alternative service is almost the double compared to military service (17 months). The financial support the state offers is around 200€. Not enough to cover even the basic expenses. There is indeed the chance of opting out of conscription, paying the due amount. Around 8500€, definitely more than what an average Greek family can afford, leaving this possibility only to the most wealthy citizens.
The ones who actually serve for the required months do not have fewer troubles when it comes to finances. While the state provides food and accommodation, the conscripts have usually only 8-9€ per month to cover any other expense.
The future of conscription
In the era of social media channels such as Facebook or Instagram have become another way for the draftees to share their experience. It is enough to type the hashtag “Greek army” to find several pictures of them posing with pride. Usually in the company of their rifle or the Greek flag. Many still think of it as a vital part of their society. Almost everybody is sceptical about a possible abolishment of the conscription.
You see, today I finished my training, we had a ceremony and they officially gave me my beret. It is green since I belong to the Special Forces. One day I will be the one to give the beret to my son if he joins the Forces, and he will give it to his son. And so on.
A., a young draftee in the Hellenic Special Forces