Military service expensive for conscripts

Greek families with sons doing their military service are finding it harder to make ends meet. Although the length of compulsory service has been gradually reduced, the minimum outlay for a conscript continues to rise in line with the rising costs of living in general. A year in the military costs a conscript between 3,000 and 4,000 euros – the State pays him just 8.80 euros per month, the lowest pay in the enlarged European Union. In times gone by, the military’s paltry «pocket money» paid to conscripts was a real help to poor families in the provinces. «A retired officer once told me that when he was a young officer, they used to pay conscripts 51 drachmas, of which 40 drachmas would go to the family budget,» military sociologist Dimitris Smokovitis told Kathimerini. «Although a minimal amount, the families at the time needed it.» Times change; the general economic situation has improved but financial assistance to servicemen has remained low. According to Ministerial Decree 2/7/4840/0022 of 2003 and a previous one, 2/13971/0022 of 2000, an ordinary soldier is paid 8.80 euros per month and a captain 11.15 euros. Before 2000, the amount was even lower, at 980 drachmas (2.87 euros) and 1,376 drachmas (4.04 euros), respectively. The National Defense Ministry explains this extremely low amount with the argument that it is only meant to be symbolic, not provide real assistance. «This amount does not represent a wage, but is a purely symbolic sum that was recently adjusted for some categories of conscripts with particular problems,» said military press spokesman Lt. Colonel Nikos Zachariadis. «Our main concern is to create modern living conditions in the military units, which, together with transportation assistance, will reduce the conscripts’ expenses,» he said, although he did not rule out the possibility of further increases. «Anything related to military personnel, always in the direction of improving conditions, is a priority for the Defense Ministry.» As a result, the conscript’s family is forced to pay for the youth’s support to the tune of at least 3,000 euros a year. «When my son was sent to the Evros border, he knew there was not much money available, so he ate mostly at the military camp and did not order out. When he had leave, he spent as little as possible. But I think he must have spent at least 3,500 euros (over the year),» said Antonia Papadaki, who works in the private sector. «I think it was quite a feat to have spent so little. Friends say they spent 4,500 or even 5,000 euros. «Every third day it was the same tune – ‘Dad, I need more money.’ Our children’s demands are partly to blame, but life is generally more expensive, especially in regions that conscripts are sent to,» said Vassilis Papayiannis, a teacher. «My son said that when they had a day off from the camp on the island of Lemnos, there was nothing else for them to do but go out drinking, so they ended up spending all their allowance,» added Yiannis Kostis, a bank employee. There is of course, another point of view. «These days, because of consumerism, conscripts receive lots of money from the extended family and don’t know what to spend it on,» said Smokovitis. «One shouldn’t include expenses that they would have had at home anyway. They could also have worked to earn money themselves, had they the same mentality as American youths, who start working at 18 years of age. The point is not for the State to pay more. A good idea would be to carry out a survey of the relation between the money spent by a conscript and his family’s income statement.» Smokovitis also noted that given Greece’s high unemployment, in most cases, the youth’s expenses (which would be far more if he was at home) would be met by the family in any case. Conscripts themselves take a different view. «Since your country keeps you out of the job market for a length of time, it should at least help you to get by, even partially, said A.P. who is serving at the border. «On average, I spend 180 euros a month, mostly on food and cigarettes. By no means am I a big spender,» said V.P., who is serving in the navy in Crete. «Of course, the ones who talk on their mobile phones for hours need half a salary every month.» An unusual although indicative case is that of K.S., who is an orphan but managed to work and study in the provinces and to rent an apartment. «When I was called up, I was desperate. I had to leave home and manage on the military allowance. Fortunately, I lived with my girlfriend, who paid the expenses of the apartment. As for the rest, I lived off ‘subsidies’ from friends.»