The citizens’ desire and capacity to defend Lithuania is significant, however, the state often is unaware of what the citizens can offer and how to organise active resistance during armed conflict. According to experts, this could be the same sort of fatal mistake as was made by Ukraine, not having active and trained reserves, Jūratė Važgauskaitė writes in TV3.lt.
Speaking at the conference Piliečio Galimybės Gintis ir Ginti Valstybę [A Citizen’s Self-Defence and National Defence Capabilities, Vilnius University political scientist Ainė Ramonaitė stated that the question of “Would Lithuanians take to defending their country?” is not as simple as it may seem at first glance.
Not everyone has a feeling of duty to defend Lithuania
“It is said that the public is the foundation of defence, but if we are to have a look at how the armed forces view society, we would see that it isn’t quite clear, what role the public holds. Often it is seen as an object to be defended or seen as an obstacle because civilians are often those, who obstruct military actions,” the scientist said, having performed a study several years ago, which investigated the Lithuanian citizens’ commitment to national defence and to defend Lithuania.
She observed that we rarely speak about the public as a significant defence resource and are more inclined to talk about public resilience.
“We talk about civic resistance, but often this is solely associated with non-violent approaches and we talk much less on civil defence. However, it is written in the Constitution and other laws: we have the right and duty to resist,” the academic noted.
She wondered, how the public actually views the duty to defend Lithuania and presented data from the 2017 study.
According to A. Ramonaitė, the study displayed that the sense of duty to defend Lithuania exists in our society, but the youngest societal group encompassing those aged 16 to 25 is cause for concern.
“That generation’s feelings are different, be it when talking about participating in elections or national defence,” A. Ramonaitė said.
Nevertheless, according to the academic, the other questions and answers to them lessened worries. Far more young people than could have been expected would be inclined to personally contribute to national defence.
Women won’t take guns
While fewer women and older individuals would personally take to armed resistance, according to the political scientist, this is not a display of lacking patriotism, but a perception of one’s capacities and a certain attitude in the public (on women’s ability to defend). Nevertheless, when asking if we must defend ourselves, there were no distinctions by age or gender in the surveys, which according to A. Ramonaitė is laudable.
“It is hard to know exactly, what is happening in a person’s head when you ask them if they would go defend the country in case of war. This is why we sought to draw out this information in the surveys by various means. There were different answers to questions on armed resistance and partisan resistance, perceptions of weapons are mixed, but those, who would go forth to resist, would do so in any case. After compiling the answers into a single index, we obtained a view of how people are inclined to participate in civil defence,” the political scientist said.
According to her, 11% of respondents would not go to defend their home country. Most would, but with exceptions, while 6% firmly stated they would.
“The number of such people in a poll of 1300 people was 6%. Is that many or few? People answered sensibly and realistically. If we were to convert this percentage to absolute numbers, this 6% of adults in Lithuania would be around 150 thousand people. If we are to consider that the army is comprised of 20 thousand individuals, such a number is large,” A. Ramonaitė stated.
6% little or enough?
The question is – who are these people? 78% were male, 22% female; 91% Lithuanians and 9% non-Lithuanians. A larger portion of individuals, who would defend their homeland no matter what, are from cities and towns, fewer – from rural areas. Half of that intent on defending the homeland under any circumstance have military training, half don’t.
Taken overall, 28% of Lithuanian residents have military training. From potential defenders, an entire 37% belong to some civic organisation. This, according to A. Ramonaitė, shows that when an individual is active, they are also prepared to defend themselves and others.
A. Ramonaitė also revealed other results from the polling: most intent to defend the homeland were qualified employees, while the least – individuals with the lowest education, albeit those with the highest education were also less active.
During the polling and study, it was revealed that not only servicemen and volunteers were prepared to defend the country, but also individuals from the most varied walks of life. Road engineers, businessmen, chefs and computer specialists could be of much aid to the armed forces in case of armed conflict.
They might not take up arms, but would want to and could provide otherwise. That said, they know not how and the state does not let them know. According to A. Ramonaitė, the state is making a mistake by not knowing the competences of its potential defenders and failing to make use of them.
Not to follow Ukraine’s example
Reserve Colonel Vaidotas Malinionis also emphasised the importance of an active reserve. According to the officer, in case of danger, people must know, where to go, what to do and who their superiors are. This does not require being a member of the armed forces or an officer, one need only dedicate one weekend a month to training. This, according to the reserve colonel, would be a large contribution to ensuring national defence.
“Experts, reserve generals have been talking for a time now that in 5-10 years, a major war between Russia, the USA and China may erupt,” the officer said, assuring that we should not disregard such information.
“How should we organise? Firstly, there is the Lithuanian military alongside the riflemen and volunteers, the second group is the organised reserve and then there are unorganised citizens. The military has objectives, it is preparing for them. It could manage a certain small conflict when there is no need to mobilise the public, but during peacetime, we should prepare namely the public, the reserve. We need an active reserve team and you only have an organised reserve when the troops and civilians know their leaders. It is also important that they dedicate time to it,” the reserve colonel spoke.
Let’s learn from Ukraine
According to him, the example of Ukraine shows how important it is to prepare citizens for military conflict.
According to the reserve colonel, with war beginning in Donbas, then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called up the unorganised reserve and this led to up to 90% of losses being from friendly detachments. This was because they were not organised. As such, one weekend in a month dedicated is a minimum period of time to think that you are a part of an organised reserve.
“If there are plans to increase the organised reserve, I believe that it must be done by strengthening existing structures. There are limits to the current volunteer forces, some 5 thousand individuals, but if according to the Constitution everyone has the right to defend, these limits are not necessary,” V. Malinionis mused.
According to him, every individual prepared to defend their country should realise that they are part of an organisation.
“A personal weapon does not mean preparedness. Preparedness is the will, time and resources to defend the country,” the reserve colonel stated.
The tv3.lt news portal reminds that rare few Lithuanians would know what to do and where to be if Lithuania declared mass mobilisation. Experts and some politicians say that we are unprepared for mobilisation, while the public is left uninformed and responsible institutions have only recently become more capable.