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Conscription in Greece

As of 2008, Greece (Hellenic Republic) has mandatory military service (conscription) of 12 months for men between the ages of 18 and 45. Citizens discharged from active service are normally placed in the Reserve and are subject to periodic recall of 1-10 days at irregular intervals.

Duration

Universal conscription was introduced in Greece during the military reforms of 1909, although various forms of selective draft had been in place earlier. In more recent years, conscription was associated with the state of general mobilisation declared on July 20, 1974 due to the crisis in Cyprus (the mobilisation was formally ended on December 18, 2002).

The length of a tour has varied historically, between 12-36 months depending on various factors particular to the conscript, and the political situation. Although women are accepted into the Greek army on a voluntary basis, they are not required to enlist, as men are. Soldiers receive no health insurance, but they are provided medical support during their army service, including hospitalization costs.

As of 2008, Greece has mandatory military service of 12 months for male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. However, as the Armed forces had been gearing towards a complete professional army system, the government had promised that the mandatory military service would be cut to 6 months by 2008 or even abolished completely. However, this timetable is under reconsideration as of April 2006, due to severe manpower shortages. These were caused by a combination of (a) financial difficulties, which meant that professional soldiers could not be hired at the projected rate, and (b) widespread use of the deferement process, which meant that 66% of the draftees deferred service in 2005.

Greek males between the age of 18 and 60 who live in strategically sensitive areas may be required to serve part-time in the National Guard (Ethnofylaki Greek: Εθνοφυλακή). Service in the Guard is paid.

In 1998, the Greek Parliament voted law 2641 which mandated enrollment of Greek men and women between 18 and 60 years of age into a Civil Defence Organisation (Palaiki Amina Greek: Παλλαϊκή Άμυνα, ΠΑΜ). It was envisaged that the Civil Defence Organisation would respond to enemy action, natural disasters and all sorts of emergencies, but the law was never enforced.

Reserve officers

Reserve Officers (ROs) are selected among draftees with sufficient educational and physical qualifications. Educational qualifications include possessing a secondary education Lykeion diploma, while physical qualifications are determined in a series of standardized athletic tests. In practice, almost all draftees in possession of a Lykeion diploma will have an YEA (Υποψήφιος Έφεδρος Αξιωματικός, YEA, Reserve Officer Cadet) indication on their conscription invitation, although serving as a reserve officer is not mandatory, and a draftee can decline the offer, albeit in practice most prefer not to decline if asked and instead try not to pass the physical tests. Those who finally choose and pass all the physical and psychoattitudinal tests necessary to be accepted as Reserve Officer cadets, are first sent for a longer (compared to soldiers' and NCOs') training period in one of the Reserve Officer cated schools, typically for 3-4 months, after which they are nominated ΔEA (Δόκιμος Έφεδρος Αξιωματικός, DEA, Reserve Officer (in testing) ).

Service as an RO is different from a simple conscript's in many ways: ROs are generally subject to a harder training at first as cadets, but are also offered many privileges such as better dwellings, infrastructures and education. After their graduation from cadet academies, ROs are not required to live in barracks but are can reside outside the camp and follow the same work schedule of permanent officers, and even receive a salary equal to 60% of a permanent sublieutenant (ca. 600 euros) plus certain bonuses depending on social and service criteria.

However, after the reduction of the tour's duration from 18 to 12 months in 2003, there is less incentive to become an RO, as ROs are required to serve a 17 month tour instead of the 12 months of soldier and NCO conscripts, while before the tour duration was equal in both cases.

Reduced tour

Currently (2007), the length of a tour is 12 months, but conscripts may serve a reduced tour for various social or other reasons. Some common categories of conscripts serving reduced tours are:

  • Citizens who have been living constantly abroad since their eleventh birthday and whose parents are not employed by the Greek state are required to serve three months.
  • Citizens who moved to Greece before their eleventh birthday from countries of the former Eastern Block or Turkey. These consripts are required to serve three months.
  • Scientists involved in outstanding research may serve three to six months, but are required to buy off the remaining duration of the normal tour at 293,47 euros per month not served. These conscripts may fulfill their military obligations in disjointed tours of two months.
  • Members of large families (over three children) may serve between six (families with over 6 children) and nine months (families with 4, 5 or 6 children). In most cases this applies only to the oldest brothers.
  • Citizens whose income is required to support family members (such as children, elderly parents or younger siblings) usually serve a nine month tour. In most cases this only applies to the oldest male members of the family who are capable of generating income.
  • The first son in a family where the father is past the age of 70 or has passed away serve a 9 month tour.

Temporary Deferments

All healthy males are required to enlist at the age of 18. However, deferments are granted upon request to students who wish to attend higher or further education. The duration of the deferment is 5-6 years, subject to recall if a student fails to demonstrate any academic progress within a year. However, this provision is not enforced. Deferments can also be granted for reasons of health (including rehabilitation from drug abuse), and range in duration from 6 months to 2 years. These are awarded by medical committees comprising military physicians, army officers and recruitment officials. Incarcerated criminals are automatically deferred. Citizens whose brothers are currently serving in the armed forces may have their tour deferred until the discharge of their brothers. A deferment is also granted to candidates in most eletoral contests for the duration of the elections. Finally, a small number of deferments can be granted at the discretion of the Defence Minister for compelling social reasons not explicitly stated in the legislation.

Permanent Deferment

The following categories of citizens are not required to serve in the armed forces of Greece:

  • People with serious health problems, including the mentally ill;
  • Fathers of more than three children;
  • The eldest son in a family, whose members cannot support themselves;
  • Fathers whose wife has died or is incapable of work and whose children cannot support themselves;
  • Foreigners living in the monastic community of Mount Athos.

Conscientious objectors

In 1997, the Greek parliament voted a law that established alternative and unarmed service for conscientious objectors and in 2001, amended the Constitution to recognise the right to conscientious objection. As of 2004, alternative service is twice as long as the military service minus a month, i.e. 23 months, and unarmed service is 1.5 times as long as the military service, i.e. 18 months. Men serving alternative service at an institution that cannot provide them with food and accommodation receive a living expenses stipend about 210 euros per month.

Draft evaders and citizens living abroad

Draft evaders living in Greece are not allowed to leave the country. Prior to 2002, the passports of draft evaders living outside Greece were not renewed after the expiration of the original. Upon re-entering Greece, these people were generally forced to conscribe. However in 2002, the right was granted to all Greek citizens to be issued passports, regardless of their draft status. In 2004, partial amnesty was granted to draft evaders, allowing them to visit Greece for up to 30 days in a single calendar year.

Greek military law allows Permanent Residents Abroad to defer military service till repatriation to Greece. Until 2005, Permanent Residents Abroad status (for draft purposes) was only granted to persons who had been born abroad or who had moved abroad before the age of eleven and to those who had immigrated to a specific set of countries before 1997. This definition excluded many thousands of citizens who were living abroad and who were regarded as 'draft evaders' by the authorities. The law was amended at the end of 2005 to grant Permanent Resident Abroad status to persons who have lived abroad for at least eleven years, or have worked abroad for at least seven years.

Non-Greek European Union citizens have the right of unlimited permanent residency and employment in Greece without the obligation of conscription.

Aspects of Military Life

Training

Military training in the Hellenic Army consists of three cycles. The first cycle includes Basic (lasting 6 weeks) and Specialist Training (lasting 3-7 weeks). Basic and Specialist training take place in dedicated training facilities. The second training cycle is conducted in combat units, and lasts for 6 months. The third phase of training comprises the remainder of a conscript's tour and also carried out in regular army units.

According to current standing orders, conscripts are required to train for a total of 7 1/2 hours daily. However, a large number of conscripts are excused from training as they are on secondment to other assignments such as security or clerical and menial work. Moreover, many training activities tend to be theoretical in nature, and few opportunities are provided for the conscripts to practice the skills they are taught. As a result, the level of effectiveness of the training, particularly during the second and third cycles, is debatable.

Duties

Apart from their military training, draftees also have other duties such as cleaning the camp, making food, serving other draftees in the military restaurants, et cetera. On emergencies draftees might be called for assistance in Forest fires or other natural disasters

Accommodation

Draftees live in barracks. Each barracks contains its own toilet facilities and sometimes its own canteen. The barracks are divided into dorms each providing accommodation for a varying number of draftees, depending on the military installation; this number can be as little as 15 draftees or as high as 75, such as the dorms of the Hellenic Air Force's 124 Basic Training Wing.

Leaves of Absence

During their tour, conscripts are entitled to a total of 18 days leave of absence. Farmers and students serving in the armed forces may be excused from their duties for an additional 18 days (maximum). Parents are entitled to extra five days of leave per child. Up to ten days of leave can be awarded for outstanding performance, at the commanding officer's discretion. Conscripts may be awarded leave for health reasons, performing hazardous duties, NGO work or other reasons. In addition, it is current practice to award two days of leave per month of service in front-line units, although there is no explicit provision for this in the conscription law. In practice, all these breaks are usually taken in small blocks rather than long holidays.

There is also another practice called "unwritten leaves", these are leaves who carry normal leave papers but the superiors do not write down on the draftee's official record, as a favour. All those practices result in a draftee's total days of leave extending far more than the officially allowed 18 days, reaching as much as 3 months in total of a year service or even more in exceptional cases. This practice maintains the uneven treatment of the draftees in the army, and political or military peers are used extensively for influencing superiors in giving "unwritten leaves". It is generally acknowledged that people who are famous (or semi-famous), or simply have the right connections, i.e. singers, athletes, politicians or even middle-range members of political parties have been extensively favoured by the practice of unwritten leaves.

Male only

The Greek Constitution (Article 4) states that all citizens have equal rights and obligations and that all citizens capable of bearing arms must contribute to the defense of the country as provided by law. Greek conscription law though, applies only to male citizens.

Financial repercussions

Conscripts are unsalaried, but nominal financial aid is provided, ranging from approximately 9 euros per month to 600 euros, depending on the conscripts' rank and family status. This aid is not -technically- considered a salary: it is intended to help draftees with various unforeseen expenses, which are not normally covered by the military (i.e. expenses other than food, accommodation, clothing, and transport fees).

In 2004, the Greek Parliament passed a law stating that men over the age of 35 would be allowed to buy off their military obligation after attending 45 days of basic training. Currently the amount required to do this is 8,505 euros. This price tag (810 euros for every month not served) is calculated based on the income of professional soldiers adjusted for taxes. However, it is disproportionate to the income of many Greeks therefore raising questions as to whether this ability is just another implicit taxation measure. Some critics of conscription in Greece also argue that the only people who would be able to buy off their tour are rich people, and not ordinary citizens.

Attitude towards conscription and conscripts (draftees)

The military has a strong part in Greek society and structure, and is generally regarded as one of the most trustworthy institutions of the country. The military partakes in parades of Greek national celebrations. In the beginning of televised broadcasts in the country, the army also owned a television channel for civilians. In June 2006, Greek newspapers stated that army activity replace the state whenever its mechanics are absent or unavailable to help civilians. Military helicopters are often used to transport sick people from remote or rural areas of Greece, to regional hospitals or to hospitals located in Athens when the patient's situation is grave or the weather does not permit the use of a regular helicopter or ship. The helicopters are also used to extinguish forest and flash fires during the summertime, or in search and rescue missions, like the Helios Airways Flight 522, which crashed August 14th, 2005.

People seeking long-term employment in both the public and private sector are usually required to have no pending military obligations. Among more traditional sectors of society, such as those in the rural regions, national service has been unofficially but historically perceived as a rite of passage. In part this attitude was caused by moralistic beliefs encapsulated in the proverb Women have birth, men have the army, meaning that both genders offer a service to their Greek motherland, women by giving birth and men by helping defend it. Furthermore, widespread popular suspicion was generated by the fact that many deferments were due to homosexuality or reasons of mental health. The combined effect of these attitudes was considerable prejudice against people who had not served in the army. Draft-dodgers were often frowned upon and deemed useless by society.

Mandatory military service is often justified on the grounds that the army is perceived as the "natural" way to go and as a final 'school' of socialization and maturing for young Greek men before their comeout to the real world. This mindset is still present in modern times, even though the average age of draftees is higher than in the past, where the conscriptees tended to be 18-20 years old. Nowadays, conscripts are commonly in their mid-twenties, and many have university-level education (some having travelled abroad for studies) prior to conscription. In past generations, the army would often be the first time a young adult would find himself on his own and away from home ; nowadays this has by and large been replaced by Higher Education studies. Many draftees consider conscription a waste of time and a "necessary evil", since it can't be avoided without suffering serious repercussions. Also the number of young men trying to achieve permanent deferment by stating (usually mental) health problems has increased in recent years.

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