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Zivildienst is the German denomination for the alternative civilian service 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.


The word itself is German, translated verbatim to "Civilian Service", although "compulsory community service" is more contextually equivalent. However, the official translation in German is "alternative civilian service" as the civilian branch of the national service systems in Austria and Switzerland. The drafted person to "Zivildienst" is "Zivildiener" in Austria and "Zivildienstleistender" in Switzerland, commonly called "Zivi" in both countries.



Between 1973 and 2011 "Zivildienst" was available in Germany as well as an alternative service to conscription in the German armed forces. The Federal Office for Alternative Civilian Service (German: Bundesamt für den Zivildienst ) was the responsible government office for petitions along with an essay describing their reasons, the applicants had to fill in to become recognized objectors (German: anerkannter Kriegsdienstverweigerer), who then are able to fulfill "Zivildienst". The "recognized objector" could then either negotiate for an accredited service institution or be assigned to an institution. The Zivildienst was the most common alternative service to before conscription was suspended for peacetime in 2011. As a substitute to the "Zivildienst", the voluntary service Bundesfreiwilligendienst (German for "federal volunteers service") was established in 2011.

Zivildienst in force

Zivildienst in Austria

Badge of Zivildienst (Austria, 1982) Zivildienst 2005.png
Badge of Zivildienst (Austria, 1982)

In Austria, since 1975 the Zivildienst is provided as an alternative for conscientious objectors to the draft for military service. It is served for nine months, three months longer than the military service. Participants can choose one of several organisations (mainly NGOs) at which to serve. [1] Most popular choices for compulsory service personnel 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. Because of the upcoming years with a low birth rate, by 2021 the Austrian government will draft every male citizen, without physical or intellectual disability to have the maximum number of men available for "Zivildienst". [2] [3]

Zivildienst in Switzerland

In Switzerland the Zivildienst / Service civil / Servizio civile was created in 1996 as an civilian substitute service to the military service. It was introduced as part of the so-called Vision 95 (Armeeleitbild 95) reform package. Any man who is unable to do compulsory military service for reasons of conscience can submit an application to be allowed to do substitute civilian service instead. [4]

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Conscription Compulsory enlistment into national or military service

Conscription, sometimes called the draft, is the mandatory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and it continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–8 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.

Conscientious objector

A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.

Swiss Civilian Service

The Swiss Civilian Service is a Swiss institution, created in 1996 as an civilian substitute service to military service. It was introduced as part of the so-called Vision 95 reform package. Anyone who is unable to do compulsory military service for reasons of conscience can submit an application to perform civilian service instead. Formerly, the applicant was then forced to attend a hearing where they had to explain their reasons for refusal. Now, they must take part in a one-day introductory session to civilian service within three months of submitting their application.

There was a high level of conscientious objection in East Germany.

Military service Performing the service in the armed forces of a state

Military service is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job (volunteer) or as a result of an involuntary draft (conscription).

Conscription in Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany had conscription (Wehrpflicht) for male citizens between 1956 and 2011. On 22 November 2010, the German Minister of Defence proposed to the government to put conscription into abeyance on 1 July 2011. The constitution, however, retains provisions that would legalize the potential reintroduction of conscription.

The Voluntary Social Year in Germany and, in a much lesser dimension, in Austria is a government-funded voluntary work program particularly for young adults. It can last between six and eighteen months and also been spent abroad.

Center on Conscience & War

The Center on Conscience & War (CCW) is a United States non-profit anti-war organization located in Washington, D.C. dedicated to defending and extending the rights of conscientious objectors. The group participates in the G.I. Rights Hotline, and works against all forms of conscription. There are no charges for any of CCW's services.

Civilian Public Service

The Civilian Public Service (CPS) was a program of the United States government that provided conscientious objectors with an alternative to military service during World War II. From 1941 to 1947, nearly 12,000 draftees, willing to serve their country in some capacity but unwilling to perform any type of military service, accepted assignments in work of national importance in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Draftees from the historic peace churches and other faiths worked in areas such as soil conservation, forestry, fire fighting, agriculture, under the supervision of such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service, the Soil Conservation Service, and the National Park Service. Others helped provide social services and mental health services.

The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) was a United States nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people avoid or resist military conscription or seek discharge after voluntary enlistment. It was active in supporting conscientious objectors ("CO's"), war resisters and draft evaders during the Vietnam War. Founded in Philadelphia in 1948 and dissolved in 2011, CCCO emphasized the needs of secular and activist COs, while other organizations supporting COs principally focused on religious objectors and/or legislative reform and government relations.

The End Conscription Campaign was an anti-apartheid organisation allied to the United Democratic Front and composed of conscientious objectors and their supporters in South Africa. It was formed in 1983 to oppose the conscription of all white South African men into military service in the South African Defence Force.

South African resistance to war has a long tradition, and a history that includes conscientious objectors, pacifists, deserters and draft dodgers, as well as those whose objections are based upon the notion of "just war" as opposed to unjust or illegal war.

Conscription in the Netherlands was first employed in 1810 by French occupying forces. Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, who was King of Holland from 1806 to 1810, had tried to introduce conscription a few years earlier, unsuccessfully. Every man aged 20 years or older had to enlist. By means of drawing lots it was decided who had to undertake service in the French army. It was possible to arrange a substitute against payment.

Alternative civilian service

Alternative civilian service, also called alternative service, civilian service, non-military service, and substitute service, is a form of national service performed in lieu of military conscription for various reasons, such as conscientious objection, inadequate health, or political reasons. See "labour battalion" for examples of the latter case. Alternative service usually involves some kind of labor.

Civil conscription

Civil conscription is the obligation of civilians to perform mandatory labour for the government. This kind of work has to correspond with the exceptions in international agreements, otherwise it could fall under the category of unfree labour. There are two basic kinds of civil conscriptions. On the one hand, a compulsory service can be ordered on a temporary basis during wartimes and other times of emergency, like severe economic crisis or extraordinary natural events to provide basic services to the population. These include, but are not limited to, medical care, food supplies, defense industry supplies or cleanup efforts, following a severe weather or environmental disaster for the duration of the emergency situation. Therefore, it generally makes striking illegal for the duration of the civil mobilization. On the other hand, a revolving mandatory service may be required for a longer period of time, for example, to ensure community fire protection or to carry out infrastructure work at a local or community level.

The Zivildienst is the mandatory alternative service for national military service in the Austrian Armed Forces. Officially called Zivildienstleistender (ZDL) or Zivildiener it is common to call them Zivi. Since 1975, drafted men may refuse the military service on conscientious reasons and serve in the compulsory alternative community service instead. This generally involves work in social services like hospitals, youth organisations, nursing homes, rescue services, emergency medical services, and care of the disabled. The service usually lasts nine months. About more than 40% of the drafted male citizens in Austria choose this option by declaring a conflict of conscience. There is no conscription for women, therefore women are not obliged to serve as a Zivi, which is just a substitute for the still existing mandatory military service.

A construction soldier was a non-combat role of the National People's Army, the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic, from 1964 to 1990. Bausoldaten were conscientious objectors who accepted conscription but refused armed service and instead served in unarmed construction units. Bausoldaten were the only legal form of conscientious objection in the Warsaw Pact.

Insubordinate movement in Spain

The Insubordinate movement was a mass antimilitarist movement of civil disobedience to compulsory military service in Spain, the movement lasting from the early 1980s until the abolition of conscription on 31 December 2001.

Conscientious objection in the United States is based on the Military Selective Service Act, which delegates its implementation to the Selective Service System. Conscientious objection is also recognized by the Department of Defense.

While the Republic of Korea's Constitution states that all citizens, regardless of gender, sex, political or religious affiliation, should be afforded equal treatment under the law, some scholars, such as Intaek Hwang, claim that the culture of militarism is so pervasive that Conscientious Objectors are stripped of the rights discussed in the Constitution when universal male conscription became the law in 1948. A Conscientious Objector is defined as "an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience and or religion" by the United Nation's Human Rights Commission. Since the signing of the Conscription Law in 1949, stating that every male 18 years of age must serve in the military, Conscientious Objectors, when found, are arrested and subject to violent punishments.


  1. "ziviforum.com - powered by Andreas Knoflach - www.knoflach.com - Foren-Übersicht". www.ziviforum.com.
  2. Online, W. Z. "Wehrpflicht: Aus untauglich soll teiltauglich werden". Österreich Politik - Nachrichten - Wiener Zeitung Online.
  3. "Was es mit der Teiltauglichkeit auf sich hat". Addendum. January 23, 2020.
  4. ZIVI, Bundesamt für Zivildienst. "Was muss ich tun, um zum Zivildienst zugelassen zu werden?". www.zivi.admin.ch.