21.05.2000 | Evhen Zakharov, Kharkiv


The draft of the law ‘On changes and amendments to the Ukrainian law ‘On the alternative service’’ has been approved with all involved agencies of the executive power and several committees of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine. The new draft, in my opinion, has the same essential ideological drawbacks as the operating law. The suggested changes and amendments more stringently protect the interests of the state versus those of an individual. The law introduces more restrictions for those who chooses the alternative service.

Thus Article 5 of the law prohibits to pass the alternative service at non-state enterprises and Article 8 forces citizens to pass the alternative service regardless of the conditions of work. A citizen, who passes the alternative service, has no right to have other part-time jobs, to go in for business or do any job which is connected with managerial executive functions (Article17). The law rules that the application about the wish to pass the alternative service must be handed not later than 6 months before the beginning of the recruiting campaign. That condition is too stringent, since it requires that a recruit should be too well-informed and far-sighted. Article 2 frees citizens from the conventional military service if it is forbidden by their religious convictions. Nonetheless, Articles 8 and 24 force citizens to pass the conventional military service if they dodge from the alternative service or break discipline while passing their alternative service. According to Article 6 the alternative service lasts two times longer than the military service, which makes the former similar to a punishment. At last the law covers only the people who refuse from the military service because of their religious convictions; the law does not include people who refuse from the military service because of their political or any other convictions, for example, pacifists. In this part the considered draft of the law violates international norms about the freedom of convictions. In many civilized countries the sufficient reason for passing the alternative service is not only religious but pacifist, moral, ethical, political and other convictions.

It is not surprising that only a very small proportion of recruits expressed the wish to pass the alternative service. From 1992 to 1998 the number of such recruits was steadily growing and has now reached five thousand. This is unexpectedly little since the number only of protestant communities exceeds five thousand, and these communities prohibit their adepts to take arms.

Article 4 of the draft defines the category of citizens who have the right for the alternative service. This right is given to the recruits who confirmed ‘by documents or in some other way their convictions’. A document about convictions is nonsensical from any point of view. And it is not clear how one can prove his convictions ‘in any other way’. Some religious communities give out such documents to the recruits, some do not. But why the law must force young people to be dependent on their religious leaders? Besides, many religious people and pacifists do not belong to any organizations. Where will they find such documents?

Article 8 of the draft repeats Article 24 of the operating law. It reads: ‘If a citizen dodges the alternative service or commits other actions mentioned by Section 1 of this Article, then the recruiting commission may cancel its decision about the permission to direct the citizen to the alternative service… After this the citizen should be recruited to the army on common grounds’. Here the questions of the freedom of consciousness and religious convictions are confused with the questions of the labor discipline. Nonetheless, a witness of Yegova will not take arms even if he was lazy doing the alternative service. Besides, this punishment contradicts to the Constitution of Ukraine that declares the freedom of consciousness.

We have witnessed other troubles of those who chose the alternative service. One of them worked as a street-sweeper, but nowadays, under the conditions of unemployment, even such jobs are coveted. The janitor, who was the boss of the mentioned street-sweeper, wanted to sack the alternative serviceman and made up non-existing violations of the discipline. This may be quite a typical situation, so the freedom of choice of the service may depend on the actions of petty dishonest bosses.

The alternative service is a difficult and displeasing work. The law on the alternative service confirms indirectly that the military service is even worse. There are many young men who do not want to serve in the army. That is also a conviction of sorts.

In my opinion, the drawbacks of the draft are so noticeable that it must not be adopted in the present form. I believe that it would be reasonable to substantially amend the draft on the principles that take account of the world experience and the peculiarities of the situation in Ukraine. The new draft must harmoniously unite the necessity to protect human rights and supply better recruits to the army.

Let us, for example, take the state of things in Germany. The jobs for alternative servicemen are reserved by Bundeswehr, these jobs are not admissible to civil labor. The term for the alternative service is 15 months, only 3 months longer than that of the conventional military service. Alternative servicemen choose the jobs from the list of the available ones, they earn about one third of the average pay. If the job is in some other town, Bunderswehr pays the rent for living accomodation. Besides, Bundeswehr pays half of the pay for education if the alternative serviceman likes to learn. Alternative servicemen also have such privileges as military servicemen, for example, the right of free transportation in town.

I would like to propose such basic features of the draft.

The list of the grounds for the permission of the alternative service must be noticeably increased.

The tern for the alternative service must be longer than the term of the military service, but less than two times longer.

No confirmation shall be demanded from those who pretend to pass the alternative service; their request must suffice.

A recruit must be given the opportunity to choose among available jobs.

It is necessary to extend the privileges for military servicemen and members of their families to alternative servicemen and members of their families.

Labor rights of alternative servicemen should distinctly defined.

For those who refuse both the military and the alternative service a defense tax must be introduced, as it was done in several European countries. I believe that this compromise will be useful both for the state and citizens. Certainly the tax must grow depending upon the income of the recruit and his family. That decision would diminish corruption during the recruiting campaign and expenditures for the medical treatment of those recruits who were taken to the service, being not able-bodied.

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