Young men rush to arms

July 28, 2000

Growing numbers of young Estonian men want to complete their national service before taking up university places - more than the armed forces may be able to accommodate.

The problem has been caused by a new military service act that allows male school leavers who have gained a university place to go straight into the army and defer their university studies.

Estonian males become liable for National Service at 18 and, without deferment, they could expect to have their first-year studies interrupted by the draft.

The Estonian defence ministry foresees difficulties in implementing the new act. Public relations head Madis Mikko advised young men with university places who want to get national service out of the way first to contact their local defence ministry departments. If all of them applied for the option, he said, it would be impossible to take them all into the army this autumn.

The defence commission of the Estonian parliament plans to ask top defence officials why no proper preparations were made to deal with the consequences of the new act. However, its chairman, Tiit Tammsaar, said that he has little hope of getting a clear answer either from defence minister Yuri Luik or the acting commander of the Estonian armed forces, Lt-Col Aarne Ermus.

Leiff Kalev, chairman of the association of Estonian students' unions, said that the defence ministry and general staff should stick to its promise to implement the new act.

Meanwhile, in Russia, students face very different problems from the military. Mikhail Sorokin, military commissar of Moscow, has launched a series of raids to round up the city's 4,000 draft dodgers.

One way of avoiding the call-up is for students to seek a university place away from their home town. Raids on student hostels by police and military officers are to be launched to confiscate the identity documents of young men of military service age.

The first such raid - on students of the Bauman Technical University - caused an outcry in the Moscow media and the authorities have apologised for the "rudeness" of those carrying out the raid but warned that the raids will continue in the coming academic year.

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