Zivildienst (German, translated verbatim to "Civilian Service", although "compulsory paid community service" is more contextually equivalent. However the official translation by the German government is "alternative civilian service".) is the civilian branch of the national service systems in Austria and Switzerland. In Germany as well Zivildienst was the alternative service to military service until suspension of conscription in 2011. It is a means for conscripted persons who are conscientious objectors to fulfill their national service, typically in the fields of social work (e.g. hospitals, retirement homes, emergency medical services) and, although rarely, environmental protection, agriculture, and public administration. As such, it is exempt from the general ban of forced labor by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Zivildienst in Austria
Up until 1975 there was no alternative to the compulsory military service in Austria. In order to discourage people from substituting community service for military service, the conservatives introduced a committee which met with every man who wanted to do community service. The only accepted reason for avoiding military service was pacifism. In an effort to guide the applicants to the military service, questions like the following were asked: "Going for a walk in the woods, a stranger appears and rapes your girlfriend. How do you react?". Depending on one's reaction they had several options of refusing the application to serve community service.
Simply asserting that one was a pacifist was not enough. One had to thoroughly and rationally explain that one had weighed every argument (on the topic of violence), with the most satisfactory result being pacifism. Immaturity or naivety could be grounds for declining the application and potential candidates criminal record had to be impeccable.
Entrants would either serve in the community for 12 months, or military for 8 months. Candidates completing community service were then barred entry to the police force, as this would contradict one's claims of being a pacifist.
The amendment of 1991 ruled that individuals serving community service were prohibited from owning any weapon for 20 years after their community service (It should be noted that this ban does not extend to individuals barred from military service on medical or psychological grounds, though in the latter case, other laws may apply and a ban may be imposed). It also disbanded the committee and simplified the process individuals had to go through to serve community service.
The 1997 amendment introduced a holiday entitlement of 2 weeks for everybody serving community service, and extended the duration one had to serve to 12 months.
A recent amendment of 2005 reduced the duration of the military and community service to 6 and 9 months respectively. Currently the applicant can choose one of several organisations (mainly NGOs) at which he wants to serve.
Most popular choices are working for the ambulance services (usually transporting non-emergency patients to and from hospital) and nursing homes. Other options include serving at hospitals, charity organizations or in several ministries.
Zivildienst in Switzerland
Former Zivildienst in Germany (1973 - 2011)
Zivildienst was the most common alternative to conscription in the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr before conscription was suspended for peacetime in 2011. Drafted persons had to file a petition along with an essay describing the reasons, in order to become recognized as an objector. The "recognized objector" (anerkannter Kriegsdienstverweigerer) could then either negotiate for an accredited service institution himself, or be assigned an institution.
Since its creation on October 10, 1973 the Bundesamt für den Zivildienst (BAZ) (Federal Office for Civilian Service) was responsible for the petitions, the recognized objectors, and the accreditation of the institutions (and more) by law (mainly Zivildienstgesetz (ZDG)). In 2011 it was renamed in Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben (BAFzA) (Federal Office for Family and Civil Society Duties) and is now responsible for the Bundesfreiwilligendienst (BFD) (Federal Volunteer Service), a voluntary social service after the suspension of conscription in 2011.
Currently, the German Zivildienst is suspended, same as the Wehrdienst (military service). It is not abolished since this would require a change of the German Constitution.
- Voluntary social year
- Austrian Service Abroad
- Conscientious objector
- Swiss Civilian Service
- Civilian Public Service (during World War II in the USA)
- Bundesamt für Zivildienst (German federal Zivildienst agency, in German)
- Zivildienstserviceagentur (Austrian Zivildienst administrator, in German)
- Alles über den Zivildienst (Impartial Source for current as well as prospective men serving community service, in German)
- Swiss Civilian Service (in German, French, and Italian)
- (German Civil Service site that allows people who have previously served to rate and/or recommend an institution in which they have served)