How ready is Czech Army to go fully professional in the New Year?
After 140 years of compulsory military service in this part of the world, the Czech Army is going fully professional from the beginning of January. The Senate approved the move on Thursday, and it now only needs the president's signature to become law. The last ever group of conscripts is due home just in time for Christmas. But after such a long tradition of military service, how do Czechs feel about the change? We asked some people on the streets of Prague.
Man: "I've been to the Army and I consider it a good experience, because that was the first time I separated myself from my family, and I believe I grew up in a sense. But it was too long, so it's not a bad idea not to have to go to the Army."
Woman: "I think they should choose it, they should have the option. Because otherwise they are there and they don't want to be there and it's losing the point. They aren't going to learn anything, they are just bored. I think it's a waste of their time and a waste the money which the state pays for the training."
Man: "Many young men think it's a waste of time and in my opinion it really is."
To discuss how prepared the Czech Army is for the end of conscription we spoke to Andrej Cirtek, who is the spokesman of Defence Minister Karel Kuhnl. Two months from now the Czech Army will be fully professional - how ready are you for that change?
"We are very well prepared, because this change is not unexpected. We have the last 2,000 conscripted soldiers and the rest of the Army, which is approximately 30,000 troops are already fully professional. So there are not big problems regarding full professionalisation."
Was it difficult for you to find suitable recruits? There were reports earlier this year that most applicants were failing both your physical and psychological tests. Have you had problems finding suitable young people?
"No, we haven't had so far such a problem. We have the opposite problem - a good problem - that we have too many candidates. At this moment we need to fill the last 400 free places for professional soldiers, and we have 6,000 candidates who passed both psychological and physical tests, so we are in quite a good position."
Because you never really had to attract people before, advertising is something new for the Czech Army. You've been running an ad campaign since the middle of the year - what kind of reaction have you had?
"I think there have been no analyses about the effect of our campaign, but we have enough recruits, so we can say that the campaign probably was effective. People accepted such a campaign and the target group of this campaign, young people from 18 years of age to 25, let's say, and they want to become candidates. So I think the campaign was a success."
Lastly - what percentage of the newly professional Czech Army will be female soldiers?
"Right now we have approximately 10 percent of women among professional soldiers. This number will rise but we expect that it won't rise above 15 percent of the total number of soldiers in the Army. Women are a normal part of the modern Czech Army and they perform all kinds of tasks, including tasks in combat units."