Beware, the Lithuanian army may need you!

  • LithuanianSoldiers
Did you know that if you hold a Lithuanian passport, you could be eligible for conscription into the Lithuanian army? Whether you live in the Baltic region or not, there’s a chance that your number has come up, and you weren’t aware of it.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Jul 23, 2020

Frightening though this may sound, you needn’t fear being hauled away by the authorities. Exemptions are easily obtained, and while it’s your responsibility to check if you have been drafted, getting out of it is simpler than you think.

“I’ve been approached by a few clients who were concerned about being drafted,” Nida Degutienė told the SA Jewish Report. “There’s so much speculation about it, and it scares people to think they could be forced to join an army.”

Degutienė is the chief executive of Next Steps, a consultancy which processes the reinstatement of Lithuanian citizenship. She has worked closely with many members of the South African Jewish community, helping those eligible to trace their European lineage to secure citizenship and a passport. However, with applications on the rise, it’s become more critical to know about conscription.

Conscription is a recent development. “The idea was widely discussed in light of Lithuania’s neighbours,” says Degutienė. “Some of them, like Russia, aren’t the best. We find ourselves needing to be better prepared for anything which might happen, and so conscription was reintroduced five years ago.”

Until 2015, the army had been a small force of about 5 000 troops, made up of professionals who volunteered for service. Since then, it has gradually grown in size, and should consist of 20 000 troops by the end of 2021.

“Conscription happens by lottery, and is aimed at young men between the age of 18 and 23,” says Degutienė. “There are a few draft dates during the year, but every person serves only nine months.” The names of those conscripted appear in a document released by the government in January every year, and it’s every eligible citizen’s responsibility to consult the list and look for his name, including citizens living outside the country.

“About 3 800 military conscripts are called in each year,” the Lithuanian Military Conscription and Recruitment Service told the SA Jewish Report. “In 2020, the plan is to call up 3 828 military conscripts. Conscripts living abroad are included in the draftee list. It doesn’t matter where conscripts live. If they have Lithuanian citizenship, they could be put on the list.”

This means that any eligible Lithuanian citizen must consult the list, and can’t expect to be notified directly. Looking up your number is no easy task, not least because the online database features no translations nor English equivalents for those who don’t speak Lithuanian. You establish whether you have been drafted by entering your name and the last two digits of your Lithuanian identification number on the site.

Degutienė says that she has contacted the military service about the issue of dual citizens living abroad who don’t speak the language. “Few people actually understand that it’s a problem. Most think that a citizen is obviously one who speaks the language, and that’s that.”

While she’s motivating for the implementation of an English translation, Degutienė emphasises that the onus of checking remains the responsibility of all citizens no matter where they are in the world. However, if you discover that your name is on the list, there’s no need to panic.

“No matter what, the first thing you have to do is register,” says Degutienė. “You fill in a simple form online to let the authorities know that you acknowledge your conscription.

“The vast majority of those in the army are volunteers. They don’t need to force anyone to go, especially if you don’t live in the country. While they will be understanding, you must get in touch with them, register, and explain why you are unable to enlist.”

According to the Lithuanian conscription service, there are several grounds for exemption and deferment. These include being unfit for service, having no military experience, or holding public office.

Because of the age bracket selected for conscription, perhaps the best option is to request exemption as a student.

“It’s the easiest and the best,” says Degutienė. “It applies to students studying towards a degree anywhere in the world. Studies are deemed important, and no student will be drafted.” However, this exemption doesn’t remove you from the list. Instead, the service is deferred for one year, meaning that you must renew exemption the following year, a necessity until the age of 26.

If you are no longer a student at that point, you may need to rely on another basis for exemption. These are equally obtainable, according to Degutienė. “If you have a contractual obligation of any kind you can exempt yourself. This includes bank loans, rental agreements, employment contracts, and others. Also, it’s possible to be exempted on medical grounds, or if a person is a single father or on paternity leave.”

Perhaps the most relevant option for South Africans is exemption based on the fact that you don’t live in Lithuania or speak the language.

Says Degutienė, “Explain that you weren’t born in Lithuania, have never been there, and don’t speak the language. Proficiency in Lithuanian is not a requirement for citizenship, and as a citizen who lives outside the country, you can make the case that you won’t be able to understand anything. It’s a good enough reason.”

Regardless of the reason, the conscription service stresses that any request must be based on facts and confirmed by relevant documents, saying that “requests will be adjudicated by special deferment commissions”.

Having helped a South African client who was drafted earlier this year, Degutienė says that the exemption process isn’t particularly difficult and that the Lithuanian authorities are more than understanding.

While you can’t be forced into the army, failure to respond to conscription can incur severe penalties. If a draftee fails to register, he is fined between 140 and 300 euros (which doesn’t exempt him from service) and can face criminal charges. Interpol is also notified, meaning that you can theoretically be stopped and taken to court when you cross any borders, not only those of Lithuania.

Claiming ignorance of conscription doesn’t absolve anyone, says Degutienė. “You are avoiding military service, and whether you know it or not, you are breaking the law,” she says. “If you meet the criteria, you have to check the list in January. There are different deadlines depending on your draft date, so check when you need to contact the authorities.”

Beyond the conscription issue, the Lithuanian embassy in South Africa says that all citizens have a legal obligation to register their marriages, births of children, and divorces if those events occurred after 11 March 1990 outside of the Republic of Lithuania.

  • Those eligible for conscription can check their status at https://sauktiniai.karys.lt/
  • The name, surname, date of birth, and the last two digits of your Lithuanian identity number must be entered.

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