Disarmament Campaigns

By Disarmament Campaigns; Jacek Czaputowicz | 1989-04-01 12:00:00

Conscientious Objectors in Poland

(Editor's note: The following article, written by Jacek Czaputowicz of Poland's Wolnosc i Pokoj [Freedom and Peace] was removed from the publication Catholic Review by censors on 10 November 1988.)

THE POLISH PARLIAMENT INTRODUCED alternative civilian service in July, 1988 and freed people who had refused military service from prison. Poland became the first socialist country which recognised conscientious objection to military service. According to a government minister, within several months 764 draftees had applied for alternative service. Out of this number, 480 were approved.

Draftees who refuse to serve in the military for religious or moral reasons are now eligible for civilian service. A written application, stating the reasons for refusal, must be presented no later than the day of receiving the draft notice. The request is reviewed by the regional Draft Commission, the national council and by PRON (Patriotic Movement for National Renewal). An appeal can be made to the Provincial Draft Commission, whose decision is final. The civilian assignment is decided upon by an appropriate government branch (in effect the employment division of the municipal or regional government). Supervision is carried out by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy. The length of the alternative service is three years (two years for graduates of higher education), and can include social work, environmental protection, or public works.

There are still problems, of course. It remains unclear what criteria are used to grant civilian service. The lack of board members who are independent of the government causes mistrust among the draftees. This can be seen by the number of people rejected for alternative service in the first month of the new law's enforcement. This problem may be solved by the recently formed independent advisory board, whose goal is to monitor enforcement of the law. This advisory board includes some highly respected individuals. Though the board currently has no legal status, its existence provides some moral support for those applying for alternative service.

THE MILITARY'S DESIRE to create socialist citizens can be seen in its political indoctrination. A young person's first contact with the military occurs in school with civil defence classes, mandatory for both sexes. In secondary school, there is mandatory instruction in shooting and grenade throwing, and in higher education you must pass a military examination to complete your eduction. Moreover, political indoctrination is an important element of military training. A military political officer watches the soldier's ideological development. Political lessons in the army are considered important. Obligatory viewing of TV news and daily reading of Soldier of Freedom are almost a ritual.

RELIGIOUS LIFE IN the army is very restricted despite the fact that the constitution guarantees everyone, including soldiers, the right to freely practice his or her own religion. While watching the daily news programme is obligatory, listening to Sunday Mass on the radio is made extremely difficult. With few exceptions, requests to attend Mass are refused. In the initial service period, it is forbidden to leave the garrison to visit a church. Soldiers do not challenge these denials of rights due to the strong pressure of regulations. More often than not, they give up their religious practices. Professional soldiers and their families do not participate in church life, usually out of fear of their superiors. Religious life is disappearing in the large military residential areas.

In Poland, military service lasts 24 months. This length is not justified by training requirements. In comparison, military service in Finland is only eight months and 13 months in the Netherlands. There is no obligatory military draft in the US and Great Britain. In several East European Countries (East Germany and Hungary) military service is 18 months.

The length of military service in Poland is justified by political considerations: the need for "ideological molding of character." The size of the army is also dependent upon the length of service. In addition, a considerable amount of money is spent on the military: ten times more than is spent on science, and five times more than is spent on culture.

Contemporary international relations are marked by a lessening of tension and disarmament. In Poland, this process is reflected in the decision of to allow alternative service. The elimination of school military lessons and the removal of military studies from higher education should follow. The human rights of soldiers should be respected, including the right to practice one's own religion. The military must reject methods of political indoctrination which originated in the Stalinist era. Military service should be shortened to the time necessary for mastering purely military skills, and expenditures on armaments should be proportional to the economic capabilities of the country.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1989

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1989, page 26. Some rights reserved.

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