Latvia to expand conscription requirements to include women, diaspora

Woman serving in Latvian military.
Woman serving in Latvian military. Source: Sintija Zandersone, LSM/LETA

First announced on Tuesday, Latvia's plan to reinstate military conscription could be expanded to include diaspora Latvians as well as women on a mandatory, not voluntary, basis, Latvian public broadcaster LSM reported.

The Defense Ministry's offered obligation is a new social contract between Latvian society and the state, which means that all citizens must be involved in protecting the state, Latvian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Kaspars Galkins told LETA according to LSM.

As this involvement would constitute one of the most important guarantees of Latvian independence, the plan is to expand compulsory military service to include Latvian citizens within recruitment age living abroad as well.

"Latvian society needs to change its thinking and accept that service in the state army is a matter of honor and duty — as it is, for example, in Finland — not a punishment," Galkins added.

Citizens living abroad who have joined Latvia's National Guard (Zemessardze, ZS) have also proven to return from their country of residence regularly to participate in training.

While conscription is currently only planned to be made mandatory for male citizens, the latter is based purely on financial considerations, and Latvia could nonetheless decide to make it mandatory for everyone, regardless of gender.

The Defense Ministry noted that it stands for gender equality, and should the Latvian government and Saeima be prepared to grant additional funding, it would be possible to expand mandatory service to all.

It is currently not yet known what measures the ministry may employ to encourage selectees to report for conscription. "We are currently continuing to study Finland's experience in determining responsibility for deliberately avoiding national defense service," Galkins said.

Five-year transition

According to information provided to the media by the Ministry of Defense earlier this week, conscription in Latvia will be gradually reintroduced over the course of five years, with the first, voluntary phase to begin on January 1, 2023.

Recruitment is slated to take place semiannually — on January 1 and July 1. Following a five-year transition period, conscription will be compulsory for all men aged 18-27.

Service can be deferred until after graduation by those continuing their studies.

Conscription will last for a period of 12 months, one of which will be vacation time. Under current plans, conscripts will receive €400 per month — below the current Latvian national minimum wage of €500 — plus travel expenses.

Conscription in neighboring countries

Latvia abolished compulsory conscription in 2007, switching in full to a professional military service backed by a National Guard militia. Lithuania abolished compulsory conscription in 2008, and reinstated it in 2016. Sweden had likewise deactivated peacetime conscription between 2010 and 2017.

Following the regaining of its independence in August 1991, Estonia established compulsory conscription late that same year. Conscription is compulsory in Finland as well.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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