The title above means referendum, and Austria just held one yesterday (Austria very sensibly holds it’s voting events on Sundays), to determine public opinion on whether to keep mandatory military service for young Austrian men, or to switch over to a completely professional armed forces. The result was a clear majority to keep the status quo, and a big reason given was to preserve the insitution of Zivildienst, the alternative civil service which allows conscientious objectors to serve fulfill mandatory service outside of the military. Zivildienst jobs range from working at retirement homes (I’m sure the female residents love having those nice young men around the place!) to driving ambulances, and all manner of stuff in between.
Germany stopped its mandatory military/civil service in 2011, and if I remember correctly, studies showed that the institutions which stood to suffer most, from lack of Zivildiener, didn’t really suffer at all, somehow filling the gaps with volunteers from other organizations. So I’m not sure if this reason for keeping mandatory service is a good one. According to Der Standard, reason number one was “it hasn’t done anyone any harm til now”, reason two was the preservation of the Zivildienst, and reason three was the cost of changing it.
A good bit of this is political sparring between Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos, a (center left) Social Democrat who want to reform an outdated military, and the (center right) People’s Party, who likes the status quo. The media is reporting that the more conservative People’s Party mobilized their forces (older voters) more effectively in this quarrel. Der Standard reports that there is a strong correlation to voting results and age — younger Austrians were for abolishing mandatory service, and older Austrians voted to keep it. In effect, the older generation(s) basicall outvoted the younger generation. What this means — whether the old trope about people growing more conservative as they age, or the eventual aging out of certain opinions and prejudices — remains to be seen.