Swiss soldier fined for ‘humiliating’ hazing

A former commander of a company of Swiss tank grenadiers escaped jail time but was fined on Thursday by a military tribunal for backing humiliating initiation activities for new soldiers.

Swiss soldier fined for ‘humiliating’ hazing

Recruits under the command of the former captain at a training centre in Bure in the canton of Jura were forced to drink water used for cooking fish mixed with schnapps, eat cat food, drink beer out of their boots and serve their superiors naked.

The former commander, 35, risked up to three years in jail for his role in the incidents, which dated back to September 2011.

The matter was compounded by the fact video footage of the hazing emerged on the internet, sullying the reputation of the Swiss army.

The accused defended his role in the case saying he believed the initiation activities reinforced cohesion in the group and forged character, the ATS news agency reported.

He testified that he had informed his superiors in advance

The batallion and brigade commanders had stated that hazing was not harmful provided it did not include drinking bouts or acts that humiliated soldiers.

However, the tribunal found that these instructions were unclear, ATS reported.

The former commander’s defence argued the commander was a “guest” at the initiation ceremonies that were in fact organized by the soldiers themselves.

In its ruling, the tribunal found that the captain could have stopped the hazing, however, and that he did not follow the requirements of the army.

The military court took into account his otherwise excellent qualifications and spotless record.

It fined him 500 francs in addition to a financial penalty totalling 960 francs, suspended for two years, conditional on good behaviour.

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Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Once foreigners become citizens of Switzerland they get new benefits as well as responsibilities. Military service is one of the latter but does everyone have to do it?

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?
Once you become Swiss, military service becomes obligatory. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Many foreigners wonder why Switzerland, which hasn’t fought a war in modern times, needs an army in the first place.

But military presence is ubiquitous in Switzerland, stretching far beyond the practical Swiss army knives.

All able-bodied Swiss men from the age of 18 until 30 are required to serve in the armed forces or in its alternative, the civilian service. Military service for women is voluntary and those who choose to do so will be pleased to know they can wear new, comfortable underwear designed just for them.

READ MORE: Women in Swiss military no longer forced to wear men’s underwear

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. This was an experience of one of our readers, Dr. Robert Schinagl from the USA, who said that since he became naturalised “the military has been attempting to recruit me for national service”.

READ MORE: ‘A feeling of belonging’: What it’s like to become Swiss

What if you are a dual national?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

But wait, there’s more

In case you have to serve but for some reason can’t, you’re not off the hook.

If the army won’t get you, taxes will.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

What if you perform the Civil Defence service instead of the military?

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40

Civil service has, however, proven its mettle during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when  around 4,000 civilian volunteers were supporting the emergency services and hospitals.

If you are part of civil defence service, you are entitled to a deduction from the annual military service exemption tax. For every day you worked for civil defence, you can deduct this tax by 4 percent.

This website (in German, French and Italian) explains how to apply for Civil Service.

Does serving as Vatican Papal Guard disqualify you from the military service?

Nice try, but no.

They are not soldiers but part of the Vatican City police force.