By Liberty Paananen.
In recent years a number of European countries have made U-turns in their national service policy. In 2016, Lithuania reinstated conscription and shortly after, in 2017, Sweden announced similar plans with conscription commencing in January 2018. Last year, French President, Macron introduced a lighter national service to France. One, with emphasis on civil duty in the attempt to build a strong ethos of social cohesion.
Critics of national service offer many compelling arguments about the institution’s existence. Asserting that conscripts are conditioned with a level of brutality and violence. They are not without foundation in this argument, as conscripts learn to defend their country, with knowledge and weapons that could result in the death of others. Not only are these scenarios hypothetical, but those opposed to national service have argued that across Europe it is superfluous. Citing that technological advances mean unpaid, civilian soldiers on the ground would not offer any usefulservice in a new war. This argument, leaves me wondering what elements of violence and brutality these uselessconscripts need training in?
Having come to live in Finland as a result of national service (I married a Finn), the experience has shown me the many benefits conscription delivers.
Conscription in Finland is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. It is a ritual, a rite of passage and the making of a commitment to a country that is your home. It is a community and a family. It instils a sense of ownership, belonging and as Macron seeks to find, it provides social cohesion.
I have seen young generations bond with their elders, reminiscent in their mutual experience. Witnessing a sense of unity and togetherness. But the positive effect merely begins here.
Conscripts in Finland are mostly between the ages of 18 and 21. An age where your sense of identity evolves. The Finnish national service asserts a unique environment built on structure, discipline, solidarity, communication and hard work. All skills which are transferable to the real world and detrimental to successful functioning in society. Gaining these skills, at an age of extreme influence, surely has positive repercussions.
The potency of these environmental structures is evident in the simple day-to-day. From the strict timetable, to the importance of teamwork, the limitations of mobile phone use, the intense physical exertion and notably, in the face of responsibility. Post-service, the realisation of the freedom that you assert in your own life – after obeying the physically and mentally demanding timetable of military life – is nothing short of a positive.
Today, everything is at your fingertips faster than ever before, something which undoubtedly evokes a lack of patience and gratitude. The conditions of conscript life counterbalance the immediate nature of today’s society and provide a healthy experience in deprivation and obedience. Trials which breed appreciation and humility – two values which build upstanding citizens.
The Finnish language is genderless and Finland was the first European country to have a female President. Whilst, voluntary national service exists for women, I question why Finland has not followed the pattern of both its language and its history to make national service mandatory regardless of gender. The values, life lessons, respect and togetherness provided by national service are surely beneficial to society from men and women alike.
Today, with two sons, I would without a doubt, send them to fulfil their national service and had they been girls, I would send them too.
Liberty Paananen is a British citizen who has recently moved to Finland with her husband and two children. She is a writer with a degree in this field of expertise. Her experience ranges across ghostwriting, technical document curation and copy writing. She regularly shares her new found love for Finnish landscapes and culture on her personal blog.