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Membership in the alliance has transformed Czechs' attitudes toward their military.
NATO membership has also transformed the Czech army, and the public attitude towards its military, according to Weiss.
“Appreciation of the army has grown very much, partly because of missions abroad and partly because of the floods in 1997 and 2002,” he said, referring to record-setting waters that swept across the country. The military was called on to act in a civilian manner, filling sand bags, erecting flood barriers and evacuating people.
“NATO enabled the army to transform itself more quickly — there was pressure for reforms,” Weiss said.
Maj. Karel Kout has been in the army for 20 years and he said the changes in the military are like “black and white. Twenty-five years ago it was an iron army, not a digital army.”
What was once an army of 200,000 conscripts who were forced to serve for one year with virtually no pay has been transformed into a professional army of 23,000, Kout said.
Also transformed is the public's attitude toward serving in the military and the public perception of the army. The transformation cannot be overstated, according to Andrej Cirtek, a spokesman for the Czech defense ministry.
Young men's “relationship toward military service and the relationship of society toward the army was quite negative,” Cirtek said. “In those days it was hard to imagine that someone would voluntarily go to serve in the army. The army was compromised and it's image damaged by 40 years of communism.
“Now in 2009 we have a professional army, with a high prestige in society,” he said. “The military is the most trusted public institution, along with the president.”
And what's good for member states is good for the alliance, according to Weiss.
“New member states give NATO political impact,” he said, “the bigger the alliance the bigger the impact.”
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