The Israeli model of military service, where women are also conscripted, would not necessarily be suitable for Lithuania, according to Dr Deividas Šlekys, associate professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University (VU TSPMI), and student Rugilė Katinaitė. Lithuania needs to find its own model of universal defence that includes everyone. According to them, it is not only the quantity of military hardware that is important in the army, but also a good relationship between the soldiers and the command.
"At university, as in the army, teamwork is the most important thing," says Associate Professor Dr Šlekys.
The scientist's phrase perfectly describes the relationship he has developed over the last four years with R. Katinaitė, a year 4 student at VU TSPMI. Having chosen to take courses on war subjects, including Sociology of War, taught by Associate Professor Dr Šlekys, R. Katinaitė found her own path in the studies at VU TSPMI and outside the institute.
R. Katinaitė says she has wanted to work for Lithuania since she was very young and grew up with the understanding that "you need to know not only your rights, but also your responsibilities."
According to her, every person who loves Lithuania has an idea of the highest form of citizenship, and for her it is a well-prepared, motivated and courageous Lithuanian male or female soldier. Therefore, from her adolescence she attended military officer courses, immersed herself in partisan poetry, communicated with deportees, and had an internship at the Ministry of National Defence. And after getting the credits in all the subjects taught by Dr Šlekys, she decided to devote her future to national defence, security and military studies.
He confirms that several students who have attended his courses have chosen to follow the military service path. It reminds him of his responsibility as a teacher.
"I have to choose my words and teaching formats responsibly, because I work with young people, who very often can take the words directly, without feeling the subtext between the lines," says Dr Šlekys.
Morale is as important as military hardware
According to the teacher, the war in Ukraine proved that it is not only the quantity of military equipment that matters, but also the soldiers who operate the weapons and combat systems and their relationship with the commanding officers.
"If their commanders do not inspire them, do not encourage their creativity, do not set an example, but on the contrary, oppress them, are violent, then such an army does not have the "flame" of combat. It's all done through gritted teeth, grudgingly. A motivated soldier, who understands why he or she is fighting, who sees the example set by commanders, will be more likely to endure the cold, the pain, the hunger, the fatigue that grows day by day," says the scientist.
In R. Katinaitė's opinion, a soldier must be a resilient person who respects authority and wants to gain it: "Patience, dedication and rational thinking in critical situations are absolutely necessary. I have immense respect for the specialists, instructors and commanders who have served in the Armed Forces for many years."
Dr Šlekys adds that a soldier has to be able to balance between the ability to obey an order and the ability to improvise when he or she sees certain circumstances to act differently, not following the textbook.
"A soldier needs to understand what discipline is, that rules are not just made for the sake of it, because somebody wanted them. Respect to team members and commanders. <...> Every soldier is important. It's like the relationship between a lecturer and a student at university: one cannot function without the other", he says.
The Israeli model would not work in Lithuania
The scientist says he does not think that the Israeli model of military service, where women are also conscripted, could be applied in Lithuania.
"What works for Israel may not necessarily work for Lithuania. My understanding and knowledge of war studies tells me that wars are different because they take place in different political, cultural and economic contexts. This means that Israel can do some things because it is Israel. With a distinct political system, ethno-social structure of society, and specific geopolitical challenges. <...>
Yes, it is possible to adopt certain managerial and technical solutions from Israel, but it is hard to imagine a wider copying of practices. But I don't think that's a bad thing. We have the opportunity to be creators and to create and implement ideas in the field of defence that are created by us, for us, for our needs," says Associate Professor Šlekys.
In turn, R. Katinaitė argues that Lithuania is closer to the Finnish military model than to the Israeli one.
"The latter country has been living on the front line for many years. And we had the luxurious 30 years for a breather. Maybe it was even too much. Overall, the war in Ukraine has been going on for 8 years. So I tend to look beyond gender – it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, the most important thing is to be an exemplary citizen of Lithuania," says the student.
In R. Katinaitė says that citizens – men and women – could engage in a variety of activities if necessary: join the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union, do voluntary military service, or join a civic organisation.
Associate Professor Dr Šlekys says that he wants to believe that the heroic sacrifice of the Ukrainian people will inspire Lithuanian youth to take a greater interest in national defence. He predicts that the number of people wanting to serve should increase, but it is not clear whether the army is currently able to accommodate all those who want to serve, and what the state's demand is.
According to R. Katinaitė, Army Basic Training would be useful not only for the training of soldiers, but also for any citizen.
"I think this is a basic package of skills that everyone needs to be transformed: basic knowledge of topography helps to learn how to navigate in unfamiliar terrain, tactical medicine skills are critical for first aid, active phases in the forest are definitely useful for building endurance, and physical activity enhances health," she says.
The teacher believes that knowledge of war as a phenomenon is essential because we can see from the tragic events in Ukraine what a terrible and destructive phenomenon it is.
"But at the same time, we cannot ignore that wars, both past and present, affect our daily lives, from politics to education to pop culture. Therefore, no matter how terrible the war may be, we cannot ignore it, we have to know it, we have to study it," says Associate Professor Dr Šlekys.
In recognition of the importance of developing a relationship between teachers and students, and having the courage to ask questions, VU is presenting an art project and a virtual exhibition, in collaboration with the documentary and portrait photographer Tadas Kazakevičius. The exhibition also features a series of portraits of Associate Professor Dr Deividas Šlekys and Rugilė Katinaitė, revealing the teacher's sincere and attentive relationship with his students.