The idea to implement universal military conscription has revealed the nation‘s sore. With Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis announcing that universal conscription where all youths leaving school would be called to serve being potentially implemented from 2019, calculations have appeared that the number of those suitable to serve would only reach 6,000.
Conscripts
© P. Čilinsko nuotr.

The numbers may be fightening since according to Minister of National Defence in 2019 there should be about 16,500 youths of suitable age. Nevertheless only 36% are fit to serve?

Chose a diminishing age group

The decision to focus on youths just out of school also appears odd due to the goal of universal conscription being to strengthen the Lithuanian military.

Institute of Civil Geography and Demographics head Donatas Burneika told Delfi that it is risky to “push” all of the responsibility onto a single age group because it is specifically 18-19 year olds that are rapidly decreasing in the country. Meanwhile there are around 180 thousand youths of age 19-26 who could be called.

“Every year the number of students finishing school decreases, both males and females. At this age group, not more of either. Later on more males die, but the number of 18-19 year old decreases at a similar rate and will continue to decrease,” he warns.

Also D. Burneika notes that demographic waves cannot be ignored.

“5 to 10 years ago we had many school-university age youth and now we have enough of them if we are to compare with what is expected in the future,” said the demographer.

Among emigrating men – youth leaves most often

Another problem the expert identified is emigration. According to data from the Department of Statisics, men leave Lithuania more often (according to official data in 2015 11,979 men and 10,151 women left the country), life abroad is typically chosen by the youth.

In 2015 19.3 thousand 14-29 year old youths emigrated from Lithuania (15.9 thousand in 2014). In 2015, as in earlier years, the majority of emigrants were youths (43.2% - 2015, 43.4% - 2014). During the same year there was re-emigration of 7.3 thousand of them (8.2 thousand – 2014).
“Since we have a fairly large group of individuals with finished higher education, many of them do not emigrate. The main group of emigrants is that of 19-24 years old,” says D. Burneika.

Country loses 30 thousand citizens per year – a problem particularly in the East

Birth rates in Lithuania are decreasing every year. According to D. Burneika the East of Lithuania is a particularly problematic region – more people die than are born here.

The Department of Statistics data speaks for itself. At the beginning of 2016 Lithuania was inhabited by 1,329,607 men and 1,558,951 women. Hence the men’s statistics are smaller – 100 women to 85 men.

“Lithuania loses 30 thousand people every year,” the expert concluded.

According to him, if service in the military was to be held as a merit, it would be necessary to consider other selection criteria. That said the demographer admitted that there is no “safe” age group, Lithuania is losing members of all age groups.

“There is so much mobility now that it is impossible for anyone to truly evaluate the scale of emigration from Lithuania, we attempted to examine this, but there is no accurate statistic. Half of the people work here and there, live here and there. Meanwhile birth rates are decrease. Up until roughly 9 years old every generation is decreasing ever more. In other terms there are fewer 26 year old youths than 25 year olds, fewer 25 year olds than 24 year olds and so on until 9 years of age. Only last year and the year before did we see increases in primary school beginners,” explained D. Burneika.

Youth health is surprising

Special and information operations expert and advisor on defence and security questions Aurimas Navys, who acted as a representative of the public in overseeing the creation of the conscription lists told Delfi that a number of men are named unfit for service due to poor health.

“If the person’s health was checked, it is displayed in the conscript list, what their condition was like. I noticed that a major portion is those who are named unfit for service – it could be around 30%, perhaps even 40%. The health of youths has seriously deteriorated and it is an obvious fact,” he observed.

According to A. Navys the trends are concerning – it is time to consider the need to pay more attention to physical training for youths because the problem is worsening.
“Furthermore this data was only from volunteers. Perhaps someone entered the list and will be checked. After gathering and analysing that data it would be clearer, but it appears that the situation is seriously deteriorating,” he said.

Students likely to not be called

Predictions that in 2019 only 6,000 conscripts could be called is based on, according to A. Navys, factoring in that a number of youths will immediately enter studies after school.

That said both S. Skvernelis and R. Karoblis noted during their announcement of the universal conscription idea that youths would be called to service only after school and regardless of whether they plan to enter further study or not.

However if such a system was to be put in place it is likely that the number of potential conscripts would contract even more. Lithuanian Higher Education Association for the Organisation of General Enrolment (LAMA BPO) data suggests that 29,114 individuals (32,571 in 2015) fulfilled the minimal requirements set by higher education institutions and the Ministry of Education and Science to receive state financed enrolment or study stipend this year, of them 16,375 were first years.
“What the head of the military has in mind, as well as the minister is very clearly said – that the number of youths who enter higher education would not enter service. Of course this topic can be debated. But I as the head of the Reserve Soldiers Association head would definitely be against conscription right after school because higher education should be a priority in this case. If a person is capable of enrolling and studying in higher education institutions, then it is very important. Of course it would just be necessary to have a look at the passing grade, to raise the quality of higher education,” explained A. Navys.

A number of problems

When asked if it is purposeful to direct conscription just at youth who have just finished school and if this would not be harmful – reducing the number of those performing obligatory military service due to a smaller sample size – the defence and security specialist assured that it is more beneficial to direct attention to the youths’ education – perhaps this would help attract more volunteers.
“Of course if we need 6,000 conscripts, there is no doubt we can gather them from the 19-26 year old group, the same age group as currently. However I believe that in this case universality is important – all youths who are Lithuanian citizens should perform obligatory military service. During discussions and deliberations we should also consider conscription of females,” he shared an idea of how to expand the number of conscripts.

Another issue is that a portion (around 40%) of conscripts do not contact conscription centres even after appearing in the conscript lists. If the trend continues, with calling youths right after school, this could cause further difficulties.

“This is one of the factors that reduces the number. However this is not only a Lithuanian problem. For example in Israel up to 50% of those called do not appear. We are not exceptional in this,” A. Navys explained.

The problem is, according to him, different – it is up to the conscription centres to curate that the youths would arrive despite this being more related to law enforcement institutions.

“How to get youths to come to the centres is not an issue of military structures, but law enforcement. Beyond that education institutions should organise civic education that individuals would not seek to evade service when the time comes. It is to be pursued, hence in my opinion the main priority is education. However to arrange this over two years, I believe we will not be able to, it is a question of decades,” Navys conceded.

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