Sunday, September 28, 2008
The draft law would end conscription next year and create a fully professional, better-paid military of 120,000 people by 2010. This would be down from the mainly conscript force of 124,000 now. Where the current army includes 76,000 full-time soldiers, the slimmed-down one would comprise around 90,000. "In the worst-case scenario the higher salaries, which are definitely required in a professional army, would come at the expense of funds for new technology and equipment that the army also needs just as much," said Janusz Walczak, an independent military expert. Parliament is expected to endorse the plan soon, but to take effect, it must then be signed by President Lech Kaczynski, a strong supporter of a modern, professional army. He has said he would prefer the force to increase to 150,000. The structural changes alone are estimated by analysts to cost up to 5bn zloty ($2.1bn) until 2010, excluding new equipment, apartments, training and promised higher wages New era of professionalism Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said this week total investments in the army will reach 60bn zlotys until 2018 to achieve the new professional status, including the spend on new equipment. "All European armies are becoming professional, smaller and mobile," said Walczak. "But Poles want to do everything in a split second. We only know we want to build a completely new army in two years, but nobody knows how much it will cost or what must really be done. The reform should be more gradual, should be given more time." Several ex-Soviet satellites have abandoned conscription, a legacy of the communist era which many young men tried to avoid by extending their studies or feigning sickness. Until now, all Polish men below the age of 60 were obliged to perform up to nine months service in the military. "Some experts worry that the reform conscription may be hastily prepared and too costly." Backers of the reform say a professional army is needed to allow Poland to take part fully in foreign missions, which conscripts are not properly trained to do. Nato's largest ex-communist member state, Poland has deployed about 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Syria and Chad. It ends its mission in Iraq in October. The opportunity to be part of a fully professional army has excited some conscripts, but they have firm demands and these expectations lie behind some analysts' concerns. "I expect a high salary, training, language courses and at least partial financing of my apartment," said Robert Pzajtis, a private serving in a Warsaw unit. Private Adam Wilk, a conscript in the last intake, thinks his experience in the army helped him decide that he really wants to be a professional soldier. "I am mainly attracted to the army by the chance to take part in foreign missions. I would like to join them, gain this experience, test myself. This is a good job because it's a state job and a pension is guaranteed after 25 years," Wilk said. The current average mid-level army salary is 3,000 zlotys ($1,290) a month and no side jobs are allowed. That's just short of Polish corporate sector wages averaging about 3,228 zloty a month in July, although the government promises raises of about 4% for soldiers next year. With Poland's booming economy already suffering labour shortages in some sectors, some experts doubt the revamped army will have the resources to entice skilled young people. "It is very difficult to say whether the country has the financial resources to fill these 120,000 places," said Roman Kuzniar, a professor at Warsaw University. "Clearly, we may have a problem if proposed conditions such as salaries and flats are not attractive enough to lure people from their current jobs." "The current average mid-level army salary is 3,000 zlotys ($,290) a month and no side jobs are allowed." Relief for some The reform also comes as a relief to the many young men who want to avoid military service, like Kacper, a 24-year-old graduate who spoke on condition of anonymity because he pretended to be mentally ill at his medical commission hearing. "Oh, I just acted strange, you know, like a freak," he said. He is now starting work at an international company. "Many of my male friends did similar things as well or organised false medical papers not to get enlisted," he added. Polish internet forums are full of advice of how to hurt yourself just enough to get a 'D' category from the army's medical commission, meaning effective inability to serve. "Does anybody know a painless way to twist your ankle or anything else that would make them not take me in? Would saying I am gay be enough? I don't want to waste my time in the army!" said posts at an online forum entitled 'Ways to Avoid Military Service'.