Approximately one thousand young men in Estonia pay the state more than 150,000 euros fines for the privilege of evading compulsory military service. The top of the list is occupied by men working in Finland, sons of well-known businessmen and even athletes.
One H.S.P. from Harju county (initials unchanged) is probably one of the most determined draft dodgers. Unknown to the public, he has been waging a sort of private war with the Defense Resources Board (KRA) since 2013.
A couple of times per year he receives the draft notice, ignores it and accepts the fine for misdemeanor. Since he has never had any reasons for being relieves of service, the fines have reached the maximum 1,200 euros per incident.
However, this is no problem for the healthy and well-off man. He makes the money transfer the next day. The misdemeanor file is closed for the time being and the man receives a new draft notice from the Defense Resources Board to join the designated army unit. This has been going on for five years, twice a year. He waits to reach the age of 28, when the fines will end, and he will be free of the obligation (according to the compulsory military service act men up to 28 years of age can be drafted).
Paying is popular
Only a handful of KRA officials know the identity of H.S.P. Ironically the is under the protection of Estonia’s laws, which do not permit the state make the draft dodgers’ names public. And the number of such pampered boys is increasing every year.
The figures are harsh: the state exacted 221 misdemeanor fines from draft dodgers last year with the average sum being 500 euros. If we add the fine for failing to show up at the medical review board, these men have to pay some 200,000 euros per year. And they do – 150,000 euros were collected last year.
Documents published for the first time show that the absolute «cream» of draft evaders has each paid more than the president’s salary – 5,580 euros.
Among the twenty-odd main evaders, seven men pay their fines regularly and seem to view it something like a season ticket to a fitness club. Those less wealthy have failed to pay and are being pursued by law enforcement.
But who are these people? «He can be a successful company owner, an athlete, anybody, really. Money is no problem to him,» says Margus Pae, director general of the Defense Resources Board.
It always begins the same way. First, they use up the legal opportunities for deferment, for example study. While the novice draft dodgers communicate with KRA and send all kind of certificates, the ones paying fines have long ceased communicating or explaining themselves. A number are young firm owners running legitimate businesses, who go to KRA and pay fine to prevent legal troubles.
«This is a face of total indifference. We have some draft dodgers, who receive maximum fines three or four times per year. Some work abroad and think that they have no reason to show up, since the fine does not matter to them,» Pae says.
He is understanding and even compassionate. The reasons of some young men letting the process extend until fines are not always straightforward, according to Pae. «Maybe he had been called up too late,» he admits the possible mistakes of KRA. The board has begun to send first draft notices earlier in recent years – now an average man receives it at the age of 22.
I quote an entry from a popular Internet forum. «Can anyone say how high is the fine for evading military service? […] How many times can I pay it before other measures are taken (if they are)? […] Please no moralizing,» one member wrote last June.
According to Pae, some forums are monitored, others not. As the KRA director general he cannot say that it is possible to bail out from military service in Estonia. But he cannot deny the figures.
While draft dodgers paid the state 150,216 euros last year, this year is likely to see another record – more than 89,000 euros have been collected within six months. Paying fine seems to be popular.
«It is a fact that money no longer has the effect,» Pae admits. Inflation and wage rise have changed it. If 1,200 euros twice per year is the price of freedom, it no longer scares them, he says.
Would releasing their names be a solution? «We have very interesting information. But what should we do with it? It rather makes me sad. I would like to see people serving in the army who do not bear grudge,» he says.
Pae expects a lot from a law amendment to come in force next year, which grants courts the right to invalidate draft dodgers’ driving licenses. «I am optimistic that this may bring someone to their senses. You may have a good job or a rich father, but the driving license is more important.»
Athletes are special cases
The study carried out by Postimees shows that the 2.5-month athletes’ service is generally for aspiring sportsmen. Top athletes rarely attend it. Most of them have a medical release or a contract with a foreign club in their pocket.
Are there any fine-payers among athletes? «Of course, all the time. They are fined and pay up, it happens,» says Martti Raju, director of sports of the Estonian Olympics Committee.
Raju does not know who these men are. Those choosing this path no longer ask for the Olympics Committee help. «These can only be cyclists or ball players. Their problem is that they are abroad and lo longer show up,» Raju explains.
Top volleyball player Oliver Venno should have joined the army last autumn, and his teammates Robert Täht and Renee Teppan this year. But the army has not yet seen them.
Venno, playing ball in Turkey, admits that he had been close to being fined last autumn. KRA first called him to service in the age of 22. He initially received deferment, but KRA lost its patience four years later.
«It was a long process to explain myself with a foreign contract, since I could not go to Estonia. But it eventually ended well as I reached the age limit,» says Venno, 28.
Täht, who is four years younger, says that he received a one-year deferment due to injury, but will have to visit the medical review board after that.
The prospect of joining the army does not please him much. «I would rather pass it by,» says Täht, who claims that his volleyball season lasts the whole year and he has no time to serve in the sports platoon and recover later. «It is unfair to the club if I go there weak and out of share,» he says.
Täht admits that there are fine-payers among volleyball players. «Yes, I have heard that some have paid, but it has not happened to me,» he says.
Siim-Sander Vene, 27, playing for an Italian club, says that he has not been called up so far and has not had to pay either. Yet he considers this a serious problem. «This is why I am unwilling to talk that there is no solution. I am still afraid that something could happen,» says Vene, who claims that the athletes fear becoming unfit above all.
Top payer: car leasing was more important
The man who was fined 1,200 euros claims that compulsory military service had no place in his life, because it would have jeopardized car lease and a good job abroad.
While the KRA homepage shows only anonymous initials of those evading their civic duty, one of them is Allar Lepp, currently residing in Finland.
Lepp’s troubles with the state began in 2013, when KRA sent him several draft notices. The man, who is living abroad, simply ignored the notices. The bailiff fruitlessly tried to collect the 1,200 euros fine for years until KRA last year decided to have Lepp arrested.
Lepp informed the court in 2017 that he cannot show up for the hearing, since he was unemployed and had no money. He also claimed to have an infant. But he promised to pay the fine in 20-euro instalments.
The judge then recommended the bailiff to appeal to the Finnish officials to collect the fine.
«I did pay one such sum (1,200 euros) to KRA, but the other fines lapsed,» Lepp told Postimees last week. «I did not join the army, since I had then a leased car and a good job. I think that military service is not worth losing all that,» the currently 28-year-old Lepp said.
A small share of the fine-payers is those simply not caring of their civic duty.
For example, draft dodges Helmery Haabma was sentenced to nine-day detention two years ago. Haabma’s representative told the court that the man had been doing odd jobs in Europe and only rarely visits Estonia, while he also cannot pay the 400-euro fine. He evaded military service and failed to pay fine as a matter of principle, the defense added. Yet the court put out an international warrant for him.