700 Finns leave military in just a few days after defense minister proposes controversial plan

The increase in applications to leave the Finnish army reserve follows proposed legal changes that would prevent reservists from “fleeing” the army

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: PAP
A Finnish soldier participates in the amphibious operations as part of NATO sea exercises BALTOPS. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

Around 700 Finns have submitted applications in just a few days to be discharged from the military reserve, opting instead for roles in civil service. This number is notably high, considering that the total applications for the entire year of 2023 stood at approximately 1,600.

The increase in applications follows controversial remarks by Finland’s Minister of Defense Antti Hakkanen regarding proposed legal changes that would prevent reservists from “fleeing the army,” leading to what Helsingin Sanomat daily describes as a potential “mass exodus.”

The minister’s statement, published in the local weekly Kyronmaa, described previous departures from the army as “unpatriotic” and something to be countered. He also noted the potential for Russian interpretation of the trend as Finnish “cowardice” and mentioned seeking legal measures to make leaving the military reserve impossible.

This substantial daily influx of applications to leave the Finnish military reserve is seen as a political protest by citizens against both NATO and the government, past and present. The situation also reveals a “fluctuation of attitudes” among Finns in the face of more tangible wartime threats, according to experts on Yle’s television program.

The uptick in applications for civil defense tasks has been more pronounced since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, with about 3,800 Finns leaving the reserve in 2022. When Finland joined NATO in 2023, the number of reservists departing was 1,650. Previously, fewer than 1,000 such applications were submitted per year.

In Finland, which has a population of 5.5 million, there is a military service obligation, with nearly 900,000 Finns currently in the reserve. The anticipated size of the Finnish armed forces in wartime is 280,000 soldiers.

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