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The balance of interests of the army and society

Working group of Kharkov Union of soldiers’ mothers

Lately our organization have turned with their suggestions about reforming the army to many instances, because we firmly believe that the changes in the army are necessary and timely.

Newsmen from various mass media often turn to us with a request to comment some events and to express our opinion on the state of the armed forces. Yet, neither our assessments nor problems which we raise were reflected in the central press. That is why we decided to express our opinion ourselves.

At the meeting with the President of Ukraine the working group of our union suggested a number of measures on reforming the armed forces. We did it because of the following reasons.

According to our observations, the quality, that is the health and intellectual level, of recruits is steadily deteriorating. We do not want to blame the Ministry of Defense. On the contrary, the present Minister of Defense, the Central Medical Directorate and the Central Indoctrinating Directorate took a rigid and implacable position relative to recruiting not able-bodied young men and to dedovshchina. There are exemplary units both in the armed forces, in the Ministry of Interior and in the National Guard, but the general situation is unsatisfactory, and such a state is the result of the crisis of the entire society.

Let us take, for example, a complicated problem of recruiting to the army not able-bodied young men. The reason of this phenomenon is the general crisis of medical aid and the fall of the living standard of the majority of the population. Doctors for adolescents, which, in principle, must know all about the health of young men, know next to nothing. It is caused by steady staff reductions, which result in overloading doctors who hardly manage to do the necessary vaccinations. The draft of the new order on medical service of adolescents stuck somewhere in ministries and agencies, owing to which the loads of adolescent doctors grow, the pay diminishes and the efficiency falls. Because of this young men come to recruiting commissions with clean medical cards. This does not mean that they have no diseases. On the contrary, rather often they have the diseases absolutely incompatible with army service. Now it often happen that a sick youth was never treated in official medical establishments. The parents (sometimes a single mother), having no money for drugs and analyses, treats her son turning to quacks. Youths with psychic deviations often do not suspect that they are ill, as well as their parents. A doctor from the medical commission, having heard no complaints and having looked in the clean medical card, can sincerely make a mistake. In our organization we more often come across with such mistakes than with the facts of corruption, maybe because poor people turn to us. Besides, young men often conceal that they are on the books in a militia precinct; certainly they conceal if they use drugs. Drug-addicts and people with incorrect behavior or with the criminal past may not be recruited, but the control of the psychic and physical health is absent. A young mobster often has no previous conviction, and he brings to the army the laws of the mob. Such recruits make a very difficult material for officers to reform. They must like their work very much, getting no salary by months on end, to work successfully in reforming such recruits. Contrary to all declarations and laws, medical examination and treatment in our hospitals stopped to be free of charge. That is why sons from poor families get to the army having many diseases. In the most developed countries and even in many Asian countries, people have insurance medicine which enables even the poorest to be examined gratis. Instead we have infinite discussions on reforms in our medicine. We have come across with the cases when medical establishments demanded pay for the examination of recruits directed to them by recruiting commissions. This is an explicit violation of law.

In recruiting commissions, as a rule, there are no qualified psychologists, because they were reduced from the staff the first. There are no psychologists in the hospitals as well. The school stopped to be the main controlling organization which bred the children. The first reason is that adolescents from poor families now usually leave the school after the ninth form or even earlier. Later they try to earn their living by doubtful deals. But even if the adolescents finish their secondary education, and they are given reference from the school, then these references, as a rule, are similar and formal.

We have spoken about the social reasons that force not able-bodied youths to the army. The same reasons plus the negligence of unpaid officers leads to so-called dedovshchina. Very often the parents of soldiers who deserted from the army because of dedovshchina tell us: ‘We thought that the army would correct him.’ As a rule, they are parents of sons who had led asocial life and were on militia books before recruiting. During the forensic medicine expertise doctors often find psychic deviations. When such youths get into the military unit with a very strained psychological climate, they break.

Corruption is a horrible vice, but incompetence and irresponsibility is no better. For example, recruits are examined from year to year and no one from the commission wants to risk to say firm ‘yes’ or firm ‘no’. Especially often it happens with neurological cases, with youths having endocrine troubles or immunodeficite. We have the case when a patient with the immunodeficite has been investigated for two years and is neither recruited nor considered not able-bodied.

We have been disappointed with the new draft of the law on military service which passed the first reading in the Supreme Rada. This draft does not solve a single urgent problem. Moreover, it can generate new problems. We need to raise the intellectual level of recruits, but certainly we must not recruit students, as it is suggested in one variant of the law. It goes without saying that the idea of recruiting students is extremely unpopular among students, among teachers and in general among the city population. The idea is not only unpopular, but it is harmful, since, objectively, we shall lower the strategic ability of defense. It is understandable that the higher school should prepare qualified specialists who will be able to develop new technologies, in particular in the military field, the technologies that Ukraine needs so much.

According to the data of the sociological poll published in the newspaper ‘Den’, 76% of the Ukrainian population support the creation of the professional army. Yet, the draft of the law on the conscription does not mention anything of the kind. The measures aimed to improve the quality of the army, such as conscription of students, will not improve the situation. Such measures will certainly increase the corruption and will not exclude recruiting unhealthy young men. The attempts to change Article 17 of the operating law are aimed at diminishing mitigating reasons for postponement. We have always considered that Article 17 needs to be corrected, but on the other reasons, since it does not agree with the present social conditions. Under the present economic situation the conscription of the only provider in the family which includes other children, invalids, even if mother works, puts the family into a catastrophic position. We come across with many such situations, when a family, having remained without the only provider, must turn for aid to the state local administration. As a result, it turns out that not to take such young men to the army is more economical. By the way, such young men, as a rule, are eager to serve in the army, since their domestic problems are much heavier than the army service.

This means that army problems must not be solved without the account of social problems. That is why we suggest to solve such problems by counting the balance of interests between the society and the armed forces.

All these problems could be solved by the creation of the professional army. Instead of the laborious search of healthy recruits, instead of providing reasons for the corruption and then fighting with the corruption, instead of overcoming the incompetence of the corresponding agencies, the army would be able to select the best, psychologically and physically the healthiest young men. To select the best from the volunteers is many times easier than to exclude the unfit recruits from the common mass. Then military doctors can be used for the selection, because they are most of all interested in the quality of the recruits.

Even now, when the state lacks the finances for the creation of a completely professional army, it is high time to start a step-by-step transition to the professional army. The defense tax must be introduced, as it was done by our pragmatic neighbors in Poland and other countries of Europe. The defense tax consists of the money which any young man of the conscript age must pay to the budget if he cannot or does not want to serve in the army. Certainly, the defense tax must be differentiated, since a young businessman and a youth, who helps his poor parents or other close relatives, must not pay identical sums. In a number of countries the starting sum of the defense tax per year makes one minimal salary per month.This is a sort of the standard. Those people who are not conscripted by the law are freed from the defense tax. They are young men, who are related by our laws to the 6, 7, 8 degree of poor health, those who have invalid parents or who are the only providers in families with many children.

The defense tax is used for the needs of defense. There are other suggestions: to increase the work among adolescents before the conscription, to introduce into recruiting commissions psychologists with the necessary qualification and experience. Until all these amendments are introduced, all physicians, parents and members of recruiting commissions must understand a simple truth: all children are ours.
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