“We’re also responsible for our state’s defence”: Scheme gives students credits for joining reserves

Students of University of Defence

A new programme at Prague’s Charles University is to give students credits for training with the Active Reserve, the Czech Army’s equivalent of the National Guard in the US. What is the idea behind the scheme? And doesn’t it represent a certain militarisation of society? I spoke to the programme’s initiator, Jan Kofroň of the Institute of Political Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Jan Kofroň | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“We live in a relatively dangerous moment in our national history, in the history of Central Europe. And I think the defence of the Czech Republic, and our nation, if you like, is quite important.

“We know that typically younger people do not want to serve as much as we would like – or as the Czech Army or Czech society would like. So what we are trying to achieve is to provide some small benefit to those who have decided to take care of the defence of the Czech Republic.

“I don’t think that somebody would go into the Active Reserve just because of a few credits. But I think is a way to show that we appreciate their efforts, and that we are well aware that their service is of value for the broader society.”

What does it actually involve? What do the students need to do? How much time do they need to dedicate to this activity?

“In order to get the credits, they need to be part of the Active Reserve, which is an analogy of, let’s say, the National Guard, or the Reserve Army in the United Kingdom.

“The training needs to last seven days and if it’s at least seven days they can earn three credits. They can do it several times, because this course has variants one, two, three, four – there are four subsequent courses for them, and each time they need to train at least seven days.”

So far what has been the response of students at your faculty?

“So far I have only heard from two students. They said it was great because they were already in the Active Reserve and they said they would be happy to use it, because obviously it makes their lives a little bit easier.

“We need to say that when they are studying for example for Bachelor’s level they need in total 150 credits. And for these courses they can get a maximum of just 12 credits.”

Photo: Czech Army

You’ve only got a couple of students. How are you hoping to attract more?

“The attraction of other students to this kind of activity should be primarily the responsibility of the Czech Army, not of us. What we can do is to facilitate this process a little bit; we can improve their studying conditions a little bit.

“And maybe we can build some kind of a, I don’t know, club for current and former students that went through the Active Reserve – that’s something we can do. But the part where you try to attract new recruits is something that the Army should do, not universities.”

Has there been much feedback from other universities? I know you’ve been saying you hope that some of them may introduce a similar scheme.

“I have already talked with some people from other universities. They said that it was an interesting idea and I hope that at least some of them will create some similar kind of, let’s say, courses, or opportunities, within a few months. Nevertheless as it is now, nothing is on paper.

“So I would just say that it seems to me that there is some interest in this and I hope that it will indeed lead to a situation where this would become, I would say, a standard part of the curriculum at other universities.”

Some people listening to this may say that this is a kind of militarisation of society, and that that’s not necessarily a good thing for Czechia. What would you say to that?

“My argument would be that the students are still civilians, most of the time. They just take military responsibilities for a brief period of time. And obviously I take seriously the issue of the militarisation of society.

“On the other hand, we are citizens of our state, so we are also responsible for the defence of our state. As a university we have a responsibility to speak truth to power, including the military establishment. But that does not mean that we should not be part of the defence of our country, once we are called on.

“On the other hand, I don’t think that this is such a big problem for the Czech Republic, because we do not spend too much on defence. Actually, we are among those who spend relatively little, who spend really, really low numbers.

“So I would probably say that this is not such a big problem in the Czech Republic as in some other countries.”