The Life of Conscripts in the Georgian Army

Rusudan Nadiradze analyzed problems of Georgian conscripts doing their compulsory military service. Throughout 2005, she conducted interviews with 57 soldiers of 4 military units in different regions of Georgia, and with 4 experts. While reform is in progress, the situation in military units changes daily. Therefore, social and living conditions vary.

The study shows a considerable difference between conditions in small versus big military units. Barracks of small military units are better equipped and there is enough space for the soldiers. In smaller units, the food is healthier, and more is available, too. Hygiene and clothing provision, however, tend to be problematic for both types of military units. The research also indicates that in smaller military units the relationship within and between ranks is better. In these smaller units, comradeship is easier to establish, therefore deeper conflicts are very rare, and this makes it easier for conscripts. On the whole, servicemen in small military units tend to be more satisfied with their work than soldiers in bigger military contingents.

Some of the respondents think that harsh conditions are an indispensable part of military life. Overcoming hardship is often associated with strength and bravery. During the interviews, soldiers also talked about reasons of desertion (unfortunately no quantitative data on desertion available). According to the soldiers, the main causes of desertion are the harsh social and living conditions, but in most of the cases these are additional personal conflicts. Most of the respondents are not aware about their rights; none of them have ever contacted any institution regarding their rights, because there is no real precedent or practice of exercising one’s rights in this way.

The experts that Nadiradze interviewed think that a lot needs to be done to transform Georgian soldiers into a professional army: officers need to be trained to understand human rights; there should be more public control over the army; to establish army discipline, relevant principles and regulations should be developed; the government has to clamp down on all violations; all procedures need to be fully legalized and codified, and, as Nadiradze says “unlawful relations must be prevented”.

Since army reform is a priority for the Georgian government (and vital for moving closer to NATO), this bottom-up view of the conditions adds a valuable perspective. It would be interesting, furthermore, to study the socialization processes in the smaller units, and how they draw on established Georgian socialization practices.

Georgian language reports available on our website.