A government plan to resurrect compulsory national service next year in France has Mennonites concerned about implications for young people in their congregations.
While some details are not finalized, the plan requires males and females between the ages of 16 and 21 to participate in a minimum of one month of service focused on “teaching, working with charities and traditional military training with the police, fire service or army” with an option to volunteer for up to a year in further participation.
The scheme is a watered-down version of the military service proposed by President Emmanuel Macron as a candidate in 2017. Many see it as an effort to promote integration and national cohesion among people of various cultures and social backgrounds.
Conscription for males ended in France in 1996. At that time, it required males to serve a minimum of 10 months.
Association des Eglises Evangéliques Mennonites de France (Association of Evangelical Mennonite Churches of France) is skeptical of measures related to national service.
Thaddée Ntihinyuzwa, president of the conference’s Commission de Réflexion pour la Paix (Commission of Reflection for Peace), said French Mennonites have advocated for conscientious objection throughout their history.
“Documents and testimonies going back to the French revolution reveal Mennonites will not bear arms during war and peace times,” he said by email. “. . . French Mennonites, Quakers and other concerned citizens are worried about the return to national service.
“They are aware of the insidious militarization of society in France and Europe, and hope to spread the message of nonviolence and peace instead.”
Ntihinyuzwa and the peace commission plan to keep youth in Mennonite churches informed about their options when the national service is implemented.
“I don’t think the government will take the lead to advise us about what to do,” he said. “On the contrary, the government intends to give special rights and advantages as incentives to those who will participate.
“Mennonites and Quakers will have to work hard to carry the message of nonviolence.”