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Coalition agrees on future of compulsory community service

DDP/The Local · 18 May 2010, 09:00

Published: 18 May 2010 09:00 GMT+02:00

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Questions over the length of Zivildienst, as the Bundeswehr alternative is known, arose in March, when Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg chose to reduce the conscription period from nine to six months in early 2011. This meant that Zivildienst would also be shortened, but many community groups complained that six months was not long enough to make the service worthwhile.

According to daily Ruhr Nachrichten, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and their junior coalition partners the pro-business Free Democrats have confirmed that compulsory community service should also be six months long – but with the added option of extending the time for another six months.

The agreement came despite the FDP’s previous objections to such an extension.

Those serving in community service positions, known as Zivis, will not be able to decide on the extension until after they have been working for two months, the paper said. The measure is meant to prevent organisations that offer positions from accepting only those that have already chosen to extend their time in service.

“With the rule that those serving compulsory community service can first choose to extend or not after two months, we have enforced that the extension will really be voluntary and can’t be made obligatory,” Free Democrat and Zivildienst expert Florian Bernschneider told the paper.

But Bernschneider said he was disappointed that the volunteers would not be provided an additional stipend to cover the extension.

The option provides participants with the option of “bridging a possible gap between the end of compulsory service and the beginning of higher education,” family policy speaker for the CDU Dorothee Bär told the paper.

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And organisations that offer the service positions will also benefit, she said, explaining they could continue to “offer challenging jobs.”

The change is set to begin on October 1, 2011 while shortened Zivildienst will begin on August 1 that year.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:46 May 18, 2010 by Hebbellover
"cumpulsory community service," that phrase says it all. I thought social democracy protects ones rights. So what happens when someone says they don't want to do community service, but want to take care of their own family?

Forced compassion and service are similar to the old DDR. There was nothing democratic about the republic, unless you call the Stasi an enforcer of the ideas of socialism.
14:40 May 18, 2010 by dbert4
@Hebbellover - Oh no, not more of your, "personal liberty" BS.

Requiring young people to contribute something to society is a fine thing. Putting EVERYTHING to the "how does this benefit me" test, is what has made the US the nation of greedy sociopaths that it is.

"Ask not what your country can do for you......"
14:47 May 18, 2010 by janreg58
What's worse, cleaning up poop and pee, or committing crimes and ending up in jail?!! I vote for cleaning up poop. Hey this might make them change their minds and make them get in line to join the military. It won't hurt them, it will teach them to respect and appreciate where they come from, and be proud of it.
18:49 May 18, 2010 by Hebbellover
@dbert4 Yeah and I bet you probably have shirts in the colors of Braun and Blau....sorry, "Ask not what your country can do for you......" I prefer, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR DEATH!" Besides, societies that no longer value families as opposed to being raised by a village are toast anyway.
19:41 May 18, 2010 by JohnnesKönig
And if I would rather further my education and enter into a career? I say there are plenty of people who break laws to do this type of work. How many Americans have had brushes with the law to be given the alternative to enter the military service?

When you force people to do these types of things, the service will be substandard...
14:39 May 19, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
I am not necessarily the biggest fan of Zivildienst. But that's really only because I want them in uniform instead, spending some time learning how to defend their country.

That aside though, the Zivildienst is not a bad alternative if you're looking to instill some values of hard work and sense of community. It's good for young people to have to spend a bit of time having a boss and getting exposure to the world that they need to integrate into. In exchange, the nation gets a bit of labor to comfort the sick, or help the old or poor. It's not a bad trade, at all.

I've also never met anyone who was a lesser man for having done either the Zivildienst or Wehrdienst.
23:49 May 19, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Grenadier --

You are consistently a voice of reason on these threads, even when one might disagree with you. I applaud that.
06:04 May 20, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Thank you, I really appreciate that.
14:10 May 20, 2010 by Talonx
I think the best fix for this would be to make it non-mandatory, but opt-out (you are automatically signed up and must fill out paper work to get out of it, reverse beurocracy), while a course could be taught alongside to convince kids why civil service is important.

I don't like being told what to do, but if it was a matter of, 'hey the government has organized a way for you to do humanitarian community service and you don't really have to worry about many of the particulars, plus you can earn some wage from it', vs. 'hey you don't have a choice you do what we say'. On principle I would say "yes" to the first and "f#ck you" to the second. What's the point if you're forced to do it?

As for mandatory military service, while I'm glad that is not that case, such a thing is literally part of the definition of 'military state' (cough Israel cough cough)
15:56 May 20, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Hans321 is right when he says that political situations are unstable, and that is definitely why we keep an army around. Just because we have this framework of the EU around us, that doesn't mean that in 10 years we won't be at war with Russia or whothehellknowswhat.

On a more exacting note, here are a few facts of life for Germany. We're a small country. Yes, we have a large population, but geographically, we have a very small land area. As a consequence thereof, there is one of thing we can't do militarily:

We can not swap space for time.

In case of an invasion, we need to stop the enemy *immediately*. Not next week or next month - we can't afford that. That is the entire point of organized conscription. We can call up about 7 million class A and class B reserves in 48 hours, and another roughly 20 million class C reserves inside of 5 days. Assuming a non-nuclear conflict, that is enough to stop any of our neighbors dead in their tracks before the entire country is lost.

And the reason we have this ability is conscription. Because the majority of our young men learn how to use a rifle, how to throw grenades, how to use anti-rockets, how to read tactical maps, how to work in a military command structure, how to take and give orders. If we get rid of that, we might as well just invite every petty dictator in and give him beer.
16:57 May 20, 2010 by Hans321
"We can call up about 7 million class A and class B reserves in 48 hours, and another roughly 20 million class C reserves inside of 5 days."

I think that wasn't even possible at the height of the cold war. Today there would be neither units nor equipment waiting for them. I think the military usefulness of a few million guys in their 40's with beer bellies and vague recollection from 20 years ago is also questionable.

The current German army has an extremely limited military value. No problem, in my opinion, since there's also no direct threat. But the structures are still there to increase it again, though that would take years.
17:01 May 20, 2010 by Talonx
@ Grenadier aus Aachen

Point well taken.

However, in the words of W.E.B. Dubois, "the cause of war is preparation for war". After a time, there becomes very little difference between incitement and defense to those nearest any war or war-ready machine.

Additionally, concerns of manpower are essentially anachronistic in an era (70's onwards) where asymmetrical warfare is the rule.

Additionally, my point about being a military state still stands. One cannot be both Athens and Sparta (the economics and society at large of either are generally mutually exclusive). Israel has very clearly choosen one path, as have a few other nations. I would say it's to Germany's credit that it does not forcibly implicate all its population in war.
17:47 May 20, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Mobilization is actually significantly easier these days, with the wide propagation of cellular phones, television, and last but not least, cars.

Yes, not all the reserves would show. Yes, there would be equipment shortages. Yes, many of these beer bellies would be heading into an extremely hostile environment on open trucks armed with G3 rifles in poor condition. But I don't see these as systemic problems. I see them as implementation issues that we need to address. More to the original point, it's completely impossible for Germany to mount a credible defense using only a professional army, as the numbers would simply be too small and we don't have enough space to trade. Relying on non-linear warfare tactics to defend a nation is also not acceptable. It's extremely chaotic, and far too prone to massive problems to be a reliable defense tactic. It also requires fanatic devotion by the population which, unfortunately, is not a level of 'love for country' that is present in Germany right now. If that were different? Maybe.

As for being both Sparta and Athens; no one is talking about being Sparta. Maintaining a conscript force is extremely low impact on the labor pool. As for heavy industry and R&D, military development traditionally is extremely beneficial to the civilian sector.
18:15 May 20, 2010 by Hans321
@Talonx "Additionally, concerns of manpower are essentially anachronistic in an era (70's onwards) where asymmetrical warfare is the rule."

I remember the 80's when nobody was talking about stopping the Warsaw Pact with some special operation teams.

Hopefully large scale wars between highly industrialized nations are anachronistic since both sides have nuclear weapons (or allies with nuclear weapons). But as long as you don't want to be limited to the choice of surrendering or blowing the place up, you need large scale armies if you face someone with a large army.

Fortunately there's nobody close to Germany who could be considered hostile in the moment, so there's no need for a large army. I mean, the number of conscripts is very limited at the moment (we're talking less than 50.000 conscripts serving in the army).
19:36 May 22, 2010 by Talonx
This is the most civil board on the local ever.

I think everyone is making very excellent points. Particularly, the idea that kids don't have a choice when it comes to schooling either, this is why mandatory public service isn't abhorent to myself, though I think an opt-out system would give kids a much larger sense of accomplishment than being forced when everything was said and done. Opting out would probably also come with social penalties in the form of employers and universities putting you at second tier, or something along those lines. I agree with the logic behind most of what @ onemark said, but I don't think it should ever be a goal to teach anyone "to do as you're told when you're told because you're told", so is my general discomfort with the armed services they (can) take peoples humanity away.
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