Bullying still rife in Czech armed forces

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During the day they are respectable-looking soldiers, but at night they are nothing more than a floor cloth. This is the kind of treatment that apparently awaits newcomers to the elite Prague Castle guard unit. As Lucie Krupickova reports, bullying is rife within the ranks of the Czech armed forces:

Young soldiers who join the army are frequently bullied by their fellow soldiers. This was, for example, the case of a new recruit who joined the elite unit at Prague Castle that guards President Vaclav Havel. After 14 days of being constantly beaten and humiliated, Private Pavel Soff deserted from the army. As he himself said, he will never go back.

According to Soff, newcomers have absolutely no rights. The 'veterans', or recruits who are roughly six months older than the rookies, do not allow them to sit, smoke, rest, or even talk. The only thing they are allowed to do is work until they drop from exhaustion. If any of the new recruits dare to protest, they are severely beaten by their older comrades.

I asked Lieutenant Colonel Bartos from the Czech Ministry of Defence what measures the ministry intends to take in order to reduce or perhaps completely remove bullying from the army:

"The Defence Ministry is constantly dealing with these social and pathological phenomena, and it funds generous leisure activities for soldiers," Mr. Bartos said.

Unfortunately, bullying is quite common throughout the army, regardless of the level of education of the recruits. According to Mr. Bartos, when young men enter the army they keep to habits they learned in civilian life. This, said Mr. Bartos, means that this is a problem for Czech society as a whole, and not just the army, as people frequently, and wrongly, claim.

Recruits who bully their younger comrades in arms are, in the majority of cases, those who themselves received similar treatment when they first joined the army. It´s a vicious circle and, according to the soldiers who have experienced bullying, it is nearly impossible to remove this kind of tyranny from the army.

In the Czech Republic, once men reach the age of 18, they have to spend 1 and a half years in the army, or 2 years in the civil service. The Czech Defence Ministry plans to establish a professional army within about 10 years, which would, in theory, eliminate bullying among the soldiers. But, as Lieutenant Colonel Bartos admitted, there is no way of guaranteeing this.

Author: Lucie Krupičková
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