Finland still has conscription, meaning (nearly) all men have to serve in the army for a period of 6-12 months. Those who refuse armed service must complete 12 months of "civilian service". This civilian service has no function related in any way to the defence forces; it is solely a punishment for those who refuse to serve in the armed forces. Refusal to complete civilian service results in a prison sentence equivalent to half of the remaining service time.
I've refused, and will shortly be receiving a four-month prison sentence.
Of course, in Finland, not everyone gets drafted. People living in the demilitarized Ahvenanmaa Islands or belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses religious cult are exempt from service. Similarly, of course, all women are exempt.
Think about that for a moment. If I belonged to a particular religious cult, I wouldn't have to go to prison. Or, indeed, if I had different genitals. This blatant inequality alone is reason enough for me to refuse to participate in the system. It's unbelievable to me that in a 21st century Nordic country, your gender gives you an exemption from service. But this is part of the reality of gender equality in Finland.
I'm not refusing service because I'm an antimilitarist as such. I'm a pacifist, yes, and I consider myself an antimilitarist, at least in the sense that I'm strongly opposed to the political ideology of militarism. But I have nothing against the existence of the Finnish army; in fact, I'm positively in favor of it.
I principally oppose conscription because I'm a libertarian. I don't believe the State has any right to force me to serve in the military. Conscription is nothing but forced labor, and that has no place in a free country.
I also oppose conscription because I'm a feminist. I believe firmly in equality in life and especially in equality before the law. However, this summer I'm going to prison because of my gender. If I was a woman and didn't want to serve in the army, I wouldn't have to; because I'm a man and don't want to serve in the army, I'm going to prison.
Also, I'm going to prison because I'm an atheist, more or less. At least in the sense that if I was a Jehovah's Witness, then I wouldn't have to serve. I'm not, so I do.
The blatant inequality of the Finnish conscription system is so abhorrent to me that I can't participate in a system that forces some citizens to serve in the army, but exempts others because of their gender or religion. And for that, I'm going to prison this fall.
For additional information, there is a rather poor article on Conscription in Finland on Wikipedia. There's more information at the Union of Conscientious Objectors' website. Note that I'm not a member, nor do I intent to become one.
I'll receive my sentence at the end of June, and will post updates as I know what happens next. Obviously my blog will be on a rather long hiatus this fall because of this. I'll likely be starting my jail term in late June or August, but I don't know that yet.
To be honest, I'm not exactly looking forward to four months in prison. Of course, I'm getting off relatively easily; 70 years ago conscientious objectors in Finland were murdered by the Finnish army. But still, it's not a decision I've made lightly.
However, I firmly believe that conscription is one of the most unjust, tyrannical and simply unacceptable human rights violations taking place in Northern Europe today. I'd like to finish off with a quote from the Anti-Conscription Manifesto of 1926, signed by such renowned communists as Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, among others.
(feminists should take especial note of the penultimate sentence)
It is our belief that conscript armies, with their large corps of professional officers, are a grave menace to peace. Conscription involves the degradation of human personality, and the destruction of liberty. Barrack life, military drill, blind obedience to commands, however unjust and foolish they may be, and deliberate training for slaughter undermine respect for the individual, for democracy and human life.
It is debasing human dignity to force men to give up their life, or to inflict death against their will, or without conviction as to the justice of their action. The State which thinks itself entitled to force its citizens to go to war will never pay proper regard to the value and happiness of their lives in peace. Moreover, by conscription the militarist spirit of aggressiveness is implanted in the whole male population at the most impressionable age. By training for war men come to consider war as unavoidable and even desirable.
I will rather go to prison than in any way give my assent to this system.