Ukraine war reignites debate on conscription in Germany

Germany scrapped compulsory military service just over 10 years ago, but the conflict in Ukraine has reignited the debate around whether young men and women should be required to fight for their country.

Bundeswehr soldiers gather at a training area before travelling to Lithuania for a NATO mission in February.
Bundeswehr soldiers gather at a training area before travelling to Lithuania for a NATO mission in February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck.

Conscription was introduced in Germany in 1956 with men over 18 expected to serve in the army for a year, though they could claim exemption due to moral objections.

The practice was gradually wound down and finally scrapped in 2011 as part of moves to save money, and in line with Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week has led to a wholesale shift in Germany’s approach to its armed forces, known as the Bundeswehr, and led to renewed calls for some form of military service.

Wolfgang Hellmich, a politician for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), called for an “urgent” debate on the issue in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper on Tuesday.

Compulsory military service would help “promote public spirit”, he said, also calling for careers in the Bundeswehr to be made more attractive to young people.

READ ALSO: Why Germany is talking about compulsory national service again

Defence spending up

Patrick Sensburg, the president of the German Reservists’ Association, has called for the reintroduction of military service through a general framework for both men and women.

This could take the form of “one year in which young people who are of age and have completed their education do something for the state and the community”, he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

Voices from the conservative CDU, now in opposition after 16 years in power under Angela Merkel, have also come out in favour of conscription.

In the state of Lower Saxony, CDU members have put together a paper calling for the reintroduction of military service as “a decisive signal for ensuring an effective military deterrence,” according to Die Welt newspaper.

READ ALSO: Germany approves weapon deliveries to Ukraine

CDU MP Carsten Linnemann told the Bild daily he was in favour of “a year of compulsory service for young men and women after completing their schooling”.

This could also take the form of a year of service in the social care sector or the emergency services, he said.

“This would strengthen the resilience of our society to crises” and promoteskills that are necessary in “these persistently difficult times”, he said.

However, the reintroduction of military service would require a two-thirds majority vote in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, and not all MPs are in favour.

‘Major deficits’

Eva Högl, a Social Democrat and the Bundestag’s defence commissioner, has called the debate “a theoretical discussion that does not help in the current situation”.

And Florian Hahn of the CSU, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said Germany needs “technology and weapons systems”, not just an increased head count.

Germany has steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War, from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000 today.

But in a landmark speech on Sunday, Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the world was entering a “new era”. He promised an extra 100 billion euros ($113 billion) of investment in the chronically underfunded Bundeswehr in 2022 alone.

Scholz has also dramatically reversed Germany’s stance on weapons exports as a result of the conflict, as well as committing to spend more than two percent of GDP on defence.

According to Joachim Krause, a professor of political science at the University of Kiel, NATO will have to “switch back to a deterrence strategy” as a result of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Germany will have no choice but to comply with this, he said in an interview with TV channel Sat1, which will force it to face up to “major deficits” in its armed forces.

“I think we might have to reintroduce conscription,” he said.


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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.