The new Defence Minister Jaroslav Trvdik has been given three months to draw up a plan to end conscription and transform the Czech army into a fully professional force.
In a televised interview on Sunday the shadow defence minister, Petr Necas, said he fully supported the plan, but called for far more women in the country's armed forces. His opinion - and a number of experts share it - comes at a time when the army is struggling with very low prestige in the eyes of the Czech public, in spite of the country's recent NATO membership and the good reputation of Czech soldiers serving in UN peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia.Olga Szantova spoke to the deputy commander of the Czech Army's 1st Mechanised Division, Colonel Frantisek Malininsky and asked him why, in his opinion, the army's prestige was so low.
Colonel Frantisek Malininsky: It's a very difficult question. I think our prestige now is a little low, because our army has a lot of problems with the modernisation of our air force, to find some new way how to improve our ground forces. I think the new minister of defence and the new concept how to solve these problems will, in the future, be very important for the Czech army. The profesionalisation of our army is the only right way. The Czech army will decrease to 35 - 40 thousand.
Radio Prague: Has the Czech army reached a stage where it needs to be made profesional?
CFM: Yes, it is the only way how to solve all the problems with conscript duty.
RP: You say - problems with conscript duty...
CFM:Yes, you can see that a lot of young boys don't want to join the army. The full profesionalisation of our army is the only right way, because a small army, a mobile army, compatible with NATO partners is the only right way.
RP: Will it also be more expensive?
CFM: Maybe. I am not an economics expert, but now we have 56,000 people in the army and we will decrease the number 35 - 40,000 soldiers.
CFM: It's good, because women in the army is a normal world trend. In a lot of professional armies in the world, in Great Britain and the United States, women have a very important role. I agree with Petr Necas that the Czech army needs more women.
RP: Is it good for the morale of soldiers, if there are women in the unit?
CFM: Yes, it is, because we are men and our mentalities are sometimes different than the mentalities of women. I think for good morale it is very important to have some ladies serving in the unit. The ladies can improve the morale, because they want to be on the same level as men and for us it is competition, to be better and better. I think it's good.