Following in the steps of our hoplite ancestors, Greek citizenship is closely tied to national military service. Upon reaching 18, or graduating from formal education, all adult males are called up for military service ranging from 12-22 months, depending on which branch of the armed forces one is called to serve in.
This policy was born in our revolutionary past: the history of modern Greece from 1821 to the present day is one of constant military struggle, either against Ottoman Turkey (and modern Turkey) or against foreign invaders and other elements, to establish and safeguard our national borders,
Today, however, this policy is deeply inegalitarian, and constitutes a major barrier to both productivity and military preparedness:
• Conscription affects only adult males: females get a “free pass”, even though they could serve in many military positions today.
• Conscription affects not only native-born Greeks, but also citizens with Greek heritage born abroad. Thus, an American born in the United States of a Greek father is eligible for military service, even if he is not a Greek citizen and has never lived in Greece. This is an inconceivable barrier for the 3-7 million diaspora Greeks who may want to take Greek citizenship, but do not see the need for military service.
• Conscription is a crutch which prevent the armed services from adapting to the current age of electronic warfare. The reliance on conscripts for “grunt” work prevents the Armed Services – and their civilian masters – from preparing for war and conflict prevention in the 21st Century, rather than the 20th Century.
• The number of Greeks with “psychological disorders” or disabilities is probably affected by the ability to avoid military service with conditions of this type.
• Most terms of national service occur right at the transition point between upper secondary and tertiary education, or right after tertiary education, when the individual should be focused on the transition from school to work, or to university.
I propose a large-scale, comprehensive reform of the national service obligation, designed to serve the needs of the country in the 21st Century. Such a reform needs to go hand-in-hand with reforming the military, which is the subject of a separate proposal.
Every Greek citizen (male or female), or diaspora Greek wishing to take citizenship, should have the following path towards completing his or her national service obligation.
1. The fundamental requirement is 12 months national service plus Greek language ability.
2. This 12 months of national service can be spent as follows:
• In classical military service;
• In a single-term, 12 month non-military national service obligation;
• In 4 or 6 “internships” of national service, of 3- or 2-months each;
• In 26 or 52 1- or 2-week “internships” over a period of 6-12 years
The latter two options can be combined according to the time availability of each candidate. This national service applies to all citizens or applicants, male or female.
Let’s take a closer look at the non-military option for national service. Greece today has a variety of human resources needs, which cannot (and should not) be met by the classical, permanent employment model of civil service. Such needs include:
• Part-time computer programmers for government IT projects;
• Municipalities and communes with specific project needs;
• Tourism and other forms of national marketing and branding;
• Wardens, fire-spotters and volunteer fire fighters and lifeguards in the summer;
• Workers in NATURA 2000 sites, Blue Flag beaches and other environmental areas;
• Guards and volunteers at sites, museums and archaeological excavations;
• Workers in the Athens Festival or other non-profit artistic or athletic organizations;
• Workers caring for elderly, handicapped, orphans or other at-risk groups;
• Workers in hospitals, universities and other institutions of social character.
I suggest that every Greek citizen, and every person applying for Greek citizenship, should be given the opportunity of working in such employment, as follows:
• People fulfilling their 12-month national service obligations should have the right to choose up to 2 “internships” in the 12 months;
• People fulfilling their obligations in the 4-6 “internship” track should rotate between tasks, so that a person could spend summers between the ages of 16 and 24 in various positions;
• Only those people with a clearly-defined, specialized skill (such as website design, doctors, etc.) should be allowed to work on a 52-week obligation, assuming that their skills can be deployed immediately, with the support of e-Learning, e-commerce or e-government support. This could include, for instance, tax accountants, attorneys, computer scientists, doctors, etc.
A national, online database of qualified organisations and service openings should be established. People should be able to enter a basic profile, and receive a matching list of positions. Induction is at the judgment of the sponsoring organisation. All positions and organisations must be properly vetted, and include some learning component. For instance, diaspora or immigrant Greeks who do not speak Greek adequately should benefit from 2 hours of language learning per day, followed by 6-7 hours of work.
National Service should be linked, if possible, to the educational institution or qualifications of the intern. The option should start upon reaching 16 years of age. Special options should be defined for highly-qualified older people. The link between national service as a bridge between education and the world of work should be emphasised.
All positions should be governed by the same occupational health and safety and employment guidelines as regular workers. The applicants should not be there to do the dirty work. We must recognise that these people represent the future of the country, not a cheap and exploitable labour resource.
At least ½ of such service must be outside the candidate’s home region, so that the candidate learns about other regions of Greece, and so that services are not unfairly concentrated in Attica and Thessaloniki. Appropriate plans should be made for hosting, stipends, living quarters, etc. Accommodation can be procured from the large network of agrotourism houses and small hotels which are usually busy only at certain times of the year, and are under-utilised or closed the rest of the season.
The internship should contribute to four, inter-related goals:
1. Individual development of the person, helping them through the process of self-realisation and personal growth through new experience. The internship should open new perspectives and understanding of Greece and its civil society. It should be the bridge between education and work.
2. Developing and furthering marketable skills and core competences. It should enhance a CV, not detract from it, as far as possible. For instance, high school graduates interested in computer science should work in related fields, gaining practical experience and a work ethic.
3. Alleviating real-world problems, where the usefulness of the process can be monitored. The programme should be needs-based, and should not result in the creation of a huge bureaucracy. Thus, if a programme is developed involving tree planting or cleaning up sensitive ecosystems, the results should be visible. At the same time, such a plan will boost overall development (economic, social and environmental) by channelling resources into more socially-productive areas.
4. Unifying Greece by delivering service, not fulfilling increasingly bureaucratic requirements. It should contribute to creating a new identity of a state that cares for its people, its young and its environment. It should link government and civil society, the centre and the remote regions, Greeks in Greece and Greeks abroad.
At the end of the national service, a graduation ceremony (or citizenship award ceremony) should be held at an appropriate location – Epidavros, the Herod Atticus theatre, Sounion, for those who choose to attend, together with their families. This should be an inspirational event, which affirms their service to their country, and draws people of all socio-economic classes together.
None of this is particularly new: France and Germany have been using alternatives to national military service for years, with good results.
I propose that such a system be pilot-tested on the following groups:
• 1000 diaspora Greeks;
• 2000 Greeks in secondary or upper-secondary education;
• 1000 Greeks in tertiary education;
• 1000 migrants in Greece applying for citizenship.
The cost of such a pilot programme can easily be borne by central and regional governments and municipalities, as well as registered NGOs and other civil society organisations. The pilot should not take longer than 2-3 years: even the longer term internship options can be partially tested in this time.
If the pilot is successful, based on an objective monitoring process, plans should be developed to roll the system out on a national basis in the next 5-7 years, taking into account the transition of military preparedness and staffing requirements.