Serbia & Montenegro: Ministry of Defence presents draft law on military service / backlash for right to CO?

The Ministry of Defence of the Federal Republic of Serbia and Montenegro presented a new draft law to regulate military service and the substitute service for conscientious objectors. In principal, it will allow for four different ways to fulfill ones conscription duties:

  • serving six month in normal military service
  • serving six month in military service without arms
  • serving for 13 months in a substitute service in civilian institutions
  • paying a certain amount (the media reports differ from 1,000-5,000 Euros), and to do one month of military training.
Igor Seke comments:
  1. As you can see they will shorten the military service to six months, as the military lacks soldiers (about 55% choose to do substitute service). They believe that the main reason why conscripts turn COs is the length of the military service (at the moment it is nine months). However, the main reasons are poor conditions of life in the barracks, several mysterious deaths of conscript soldiers in the last twelve months, automatically declared by the army as “suicides”, and that turned not to be suicides according to independent civilian investigations. A major change happened in the way that parents of the dead soldiers act towards the army. Most of them publicly say that they do not believe in the official versions of their childrens' deaths and demand an independent investigation. A recent investigation about the killing of two soldiers in barracks in central Belgrade showed that they were killed by a third person, although the military prosecutor and the commander of the barracks (who was a person that with his unit “defended” Milosevic on the night he was arrested) spent hours and hours on TV explaining that the two soldiers killed one another. Generally, people in Serbia now see the army as a dangerous place where their sons can get killed by someone from the inside. Also, the corruption in the army cannot be hidden anymore. The recent affair was about the head generals being given enormous luxury apartments for ridiculous price.
  2. Six months military service without arms is not going to be what military service without arms was before substitute service was introduced. With this option they want to achieve two things: to get young experts to work for the army for six months in some institute (engineering and things like that). And they want to fill the barracks with soldiers (with or without arms) so that the structure of the units is preserved, and this would give then a reason not to fire the commanding officers (we talk about hundreds or even thousands) who literally have no one to command to.
  3. They want to keep 13 month substitute service for COs outside of the military system. They believe that this misbalance (6:13 months) will make many choose military service, as at the moment there are 55% COs (or better to say people who choose substitute service). However, I believe that this will have very little effect, as instead of increasing the number of those who decide to do military service it will increase the number of total objectors and draft evaders. 
  4. The last possibility will be available only for those conscripts living abroad, and who have got a permission of the Ministry of Defence to live abroad. This is completely senseless as most of the people living abroad do not have this permission, so basically the problem cannot be solved in this way, even if the recruits in exile would agree to it, which is not the case. The Army said that this model has been applied in Turkey with success. This model is also based on the “total defence” doctrine, which means that everyone has to participate in the “defence” of the country. For this reason besides paying off the military service, the recruits would have to do a one month long military training that could even be done in phases! So, if someone takes two weeks holidays and goes to Serbia, instead with his family he would spend it in the barracks, and the same thing again the following year, and then the third year he could spend the holiday with this family and friends. Among the group of the recruits gathered around the www.dijaspora-vojna-obaveza.info portal, there are just a few recruits who are willing to buy off their military service, but there is not even one who would agree to enter the barracks even for one second! For this reason, a letter has been sent to the Serbian government, explaining our views and asking them not to adopt such a rigid law that would create more problems than solutions. We still remain with our three main demands:
    • an amnesty law
    • reducing the conscription age limit to 27 years
    • a simple and clear legislation about recruits living abroad, that would facilitate the application procedures, obtaining permissions, etc.

Boris Tadic, President of Serbia and Aleksandar Cotric, Minister of Diaspora, announced on several occasions that they are willing to support an amnesty law, but it seems there is no government body ready to prepare and put this law into the parliamentary procedure.  On June 13th we received a letter from the cabinet of Svetozar Marovic, president of Serbia and Montenegro, titled “to info@dijsapora-vojna-obaveza.info” in which colonel Zvonimir Pesic informed us that the President’s cabinet is doing whatever it can to meet our three demands. The Minister of Foreign Affairs stated in B92 radio that “in his opinion the simplest solution would be just to exempt these recruits from military service”. Still, it is clear that the army has a significant influence in all political decision in Serbia, and that they are the ones stopping the amnesty law. In Montenegro the situation is completely different, as less than 40% of recruits take the call up papers, and about 30% of that number choose substitute service. This disobedience has a strong political background, and it is connected to the independent movement. The army is looking for a way to incorporate more recruits from Montenegro, but so far they didn’t have much luck.

Source: Email Igor Seke, 19 August 2005