All's Not Fair in War, Say This Sex

Greek Drama

In the land that gave us the myth of Amazon warriors, and whose capital is named for the goddess of warfare and wisdom, women are up in arms over a government plan to draft them into local militias.

Under the plan, unveiled in October after Greece nearly came to blows with archrival Turkey, only mothers of more than four children and ailing or pregnant women would be exempt from conscription.

Women between 18 and 50 would have to receive military training for a week every year and join a Universal Defense Force (PAM by the Greek acronym). Those who dodge training would face six to 12 months in jail.

"It's not only unfair but ... [extremely] insulting," huffs Maria Frangou, an Athens bank teller and mother of two. "I have to serve my husband, serve my children, serve my employer, and now serve a state that has shown little sympathy whatsoever for wives, mothers, and working women. No! I won't stand for it."

Women's groups have marched in and out of the defense minister's office, and the uproar against the idea has forced military leaders to make revisions.

Debate about the militia bill in parliament has been postponed twice.

"We didn't expect such a reaction," concedes Panayiotis Varvarikis, one of the two military attorneys who penned the plan. "It's been difficult convincing women that we're not dressing them up in khaki and sending them off to boot camp," says Mr. Varvarikis.

Still, he admits, the purpose of PAM is "to keep everyone ready, on guard, to know how to respond in case of a major flood, earthquake, and," he pauses, "war."

That's precisely the reason many feminists and peace activists are panning PAM.

Among them is Margaret Papandreou, the US-born ex-wife of the late Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou, and a pioneer of the feminist movement in Greece.

"This bill pounds the drums of war, not of peace," she wrote in an open letter to "the gentlemen creators" of the bill. "This proposed law does not contribute to increasing our feeling of security; instead, it provokes the other side."

It was in the wake of a military face-off with the "other side" - Turkey - that the government introduced the militia plan. The move would make Greece the first European Union member, and the only country other than Israel, to forcibly recruit women into military service.

PAM also ties in with a multibillion dollar arms overhaul prescribed by the present administration in a bid to bolster military defenses against Turkey.

Though NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for ages. Greece was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire for nearly four centuries until 1830. Last year, the two countries came close to blows over conflicting claims to a crop of Aegean rocks inhabited only by goats, rabbits, and sheep.

President Clinton persuaded Athens and Ankara to pull back their forces, but the squabbling continues. On Tuesday, Mr. Clinton said the United States wanted to help end the territorial dispute and ease tensions over the divided island of Cyprus.

"I think it is terribly important for us to do everything we can to resolve the differences between Turkey and Greece," Clinton said. "They are deeply held, historic, and, I'm convinced, at bottom ultimately irrational."

Greece's Army counts 168,000 active members and 291,000 reserve soldiers. An estimated 3,000 women have volunteered for military service - still mandatory for men.

The operation is due to begin in border regions early next year. Should PAM succeed there, military brass and government say they intend to branch out the operation across the country.

As Ms. Papandreou writes in her final words to the bill's authors, "You must have got our message wrong. When we said we wanted to fight for equality, we meant we wanted to fight for equal opportunities in a peaceful world, not for equal opportunities in using force."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.