Serbia: Expats organise for amnesty for draft evaders

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22. March, 2005: Open letter of expatriate citizens of Serbia and Montenegro following the statement of Mr. Prvoslav Davinic in the show "Javna Tajna" on TV B92

On Monday 21 March, 2005, in the show "Javna Tajna" on TV B92 (Belgrade), the defence minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Mr Prvoslav Davinic, has made a public statement regarding mandatory military service, a dramatic problem for young citizens of Serbia and Montenegro, whether living in the country or abroad. Regarding young expatriates, the minister has stated that everything was perfectly normal and that such "conscripts" should stop pretending and follow a simple procedure in order to regularise their situation with the consulates of Serbia and Montenegro in their countries of residence.

This statement from the Minister is unfortunately in contradiction with reality, and it is -- unfortunately again -- not the first time.

To summarise, at the end of 2004, Mr Davinic has made a statement that the problem faced by "conscripts" now living abroad should be resolved. According to this statement, an order had been forwarded to stop arresting, at the country's borders, the army "conscripts" entering Serbia and Montenegro. Further, Mr Davinic had announced the enactment of a new regulatory framework aimed at finally resolving the issue : the army "conscript" would need to report to the embassy in the foreign country where he lives and submit an application for relief from the military service duty. The necessary documents for the application needed to evidence residency in the relevant foreign country: proof of employment, school or university enrolment or financial commitments. The minister has also announced that the conscripts over the age of 35 would be automatically considered as "reserve" and relieved of their military service duty.

This announcement has been widely published by the media in Serbia and Montenegro and even posted on the official web site of the Ministry of Defence. This has received very positive echo among expatriates from Serbia and Montenegro. It seemed that many of those men who were prevented from visiting their country for as long as 13 or 14 years would now, at last, have a chance to do so.

The news about arrests of two young "conscripts" while legally crossing the border of Hungary and Serbia soon followed. The men had their passports confiscated and they where asked to pay bail fees of 3000 euros each.

Refusals for the relief from the military service duty had increased in their frequency. Virtually all applications have been refused since then, despite earlier assurances from minister Davinic for a revised policy towards the conscripts. A fee of approximately 50 euros was charged for the application and an equivalent amount was charged for collection of the response even though the response was systematically negative.

This last statement of Mr. Davinic, to whom we have written publicly several times in vain, is therefore fully untrue, and may not be justified by alleged lack of information.

Consular and military authorities of Serbia and Montenegro have been ignoring the procedure to which the minister is referring to. They are not even applying the legal right, guaranteed explicitly to dual citizens living abroad by the law on the army of Serbia and Montenegro (Section 305, Paragraph 2), to serve military service only if they expressly request it. Instead, it is commonplace to see most absurd situations : for instance, military authorities of Serbia and Montenegro deny to a bearer of a Canadian passport the right to live in Canada!

As a group of Serbia and Montenegro expatriates, we believe that everyone has a right to travel freely, to visit relatives and friends in the country of their domicile and to support his family and his job. Mandatory military service in Serbia and Montenegro is a remainder of the past and should not exist as such any more.

We would therefore like to appeal for help and assistance to all institutions and individuals of good will in Serbia and Montenegro and worldwide.

Yours faithfully,

A group of expatriates from Serbia and Montenegro

This group maintains the web site http://www.dijaspora-vojna-obaveza.info and has members in Austria, Canada, Cyprus, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, UK, USA and Venezuela.
Source: Email Igor Seke, 23 March 2005

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