Conscientious objection in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)

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Igor Seke

Yugoslavia passed a new law on the Yuguslav army in January 2002, but this law still doesn't include any regulation on conscientious objection. Conscientious objectors can only perform a service without arms within the Yugoslav army - clearly not satisfactory for conscientious objectors. Media reports lead to quite some confusion. Some media wrote about a "military civilian service", and some even presented this option as a genuine civilian service, so that many conscripts got quite confused. In reality, the only substantial change is the shortage of the military service: now 9 months for military service and 13 months for military service without arms.

It's still hard to see whether we are approaching our mid-term objective (implementation of a genuine civilian service) especially in political situation like ours: - With the arrest of Momcilo Perisic, former chief of the Yugoslav Army and member of the Security Council of FR of Yugoslavia, the intelligence service of YU Army showed that it is still very well organized and informed.

  • The agreement between Serbia and Montenegro to create a new union of two countries resulted in slowing down the work of the federal institutions that are supposed to work on federal laws (for example the Law on Civilian Service). The new union will have a new constitution and all the laws will have to be adjusted to it, so at the moment only the law on cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague was passed, because Yugoslavia was facing new economic sanctions. Our government believes that all other laws can be passed after the introduction of this new union.
  • The Law on cooperation with the Hague tribunal brought back old divisions of "traitors" and "patriots". Polls show that a large amount of the population of Serbia is against the extradition of those who are accused of war-crimes, especially of Karadzic, Mladic, Sljivancanin... posters of Karadzic are all over Belgrade, as well as posters of armed "chetnik" - Serbian nationalist guerrilla, saying "Don't worry - we are waiting for you".
  • The suicide of Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Minister of Serbian Police, in front of the Federal Parliament, who was first on the list for extradition, and his hope that his suicide will provoke clashes between citizens of different political opinions, as stated in his suicide letter, is an obvious example of how cheap life is in Serbia. If he didn't appreciate his own life, we can only imagine how valuable were lives of others to him, lives of police officers he commanded, or lives of the people he fought against in Kosovo and elsewhere, regardless of whether they were in uniforms or not.

Maybe we shouldn't pay so much attention to what seems like daily politics, but it is important for one to see that rules that are highly valued in our society are far from "democracy" and "legality" that our authorities are speaking or dreaming of, and that in reality we are facing a completely militarised society.

Concerning conscientious objection, we had many activities during the first trimester of 2002:

  • on 19th January we had a whole-day meeting at the office of Women in Black. More than 30 activists from 14 towns from all over Serbia attended the meeting. At the meeting the representative of YUCOM announced that the Legislative Initiative for conscientious objection, signed by more than 30,000 supporters, is still stuck somewhere in the bureaucracy of the Federal Parliament. We decided to try to act more from the local level and to collect information on institutions where a civilian service might be performed; we were also discussing the recruitment of the under-aged for military high schools which are under jurisdiction of Ministry of Defence and not the Ministry of Education, and concluded that this is against all declarations on children rights, and that we should start a cam paign against any kind of military use of the under-aged.
  • In February we published the 9th issue of "Prigovor", newsletter for antimilitarism and conscientious objection. At http: //prigovor.tripod.com we uploaded one test version of the on-line edition of "Prigovor" - at present only in Serbian.
  • In mid February we also printed 20,000 leaflets with the aim to clarify the terms "conscientious objection", "civilian service" and "service without arms". The media, as mentioned before, caused a lot of confusion with their misinterpretation of this terms, and they were unwilling to make any corrections, so we had to print this leaflets and distribute them throughout Serbia and Montenegro. These leaflets immediately gave us good feedback, because many new people called us and expressed their willingness to take part in our activities. - Action of collecting the information on institutions where future civilian service could be performed was rather good. So far we received replies from over 50 organizations that are ready to accept conscientious objectors. We still haven't collected information in Belgrade, so we expect this number to increase when our action is finished.
  • We made contact with representatives of Yugoslav Red Cross. YRC handed over their proposal to the Yugoslav Army, in which they asked the Yugoslav Army to allow conscientious objectors to serve the civilian service in YRC. Representatives of the Army were very negative about the idea, and were asking under whose command would objectors be if they serve in YRC. Still, YRC has very well-organized information service that could be very helpful in our future campaigns.
  • Several meetings of CO group were held in order to prepare activities for 15th May - international CO Day. So far we have decided to organize activities in several towns of Serbia and Montenegro, and for this occasion we will make a new set of leaflets with our new demand: end of conscription and of compulsory military service. We think that with this demand we should clearly take anti-militarist and pacifist positions. However, this is not necessarily the end of our work for the introduction of a civilian service, because there are some people who have nothing against civilian service, but we think that choosing between any kind of service (either military or civilian) or no service at all should be the basic right. Also, we have agreed to put an emphasis on military expenditures (66% of the federal budg et goes to the Army!) because wars in this region are finally over, hopefully for good.
  • In March we sent our representative to antimilitarist forum in Zaragoza, Spain named "Lets Desert the Global Empire!" organized by MOC.
  • At the end of March, as a part of visit of Women in Black - Italy delegation, we organized an open discussion on anti-militarist movements in Italy and Serbia. New forms of militarism in Italy after the end of compulsory military service were discussed, and possible ways to fight it as well. We discussed about new inter-pretations of the terms "security" and "safety" that NATO and Western governments are using. We explained our specific problems on this issue, and we concluded that our military structures as well, in their own way, are trying to find their place in new systems of collective defence, but the past 10 years and the involvement of the Yugoslav Army in wars in former Yugoslavia and war with NATO in 1999 are slowing down this process, and make it less visible for the public. We are aware that the integration of the Yugoslav Army in a system of collective defence (like NATO or Partnership for Peace) are against the interests of local population, because they don't mean less but more militarisation of the region, and our safety will not be improved with the presence of more soldiers in our country (either our or foreign soldiers). But, this integration of the Yugoslav Army might improve the image it has of the West, and maybe it gets chance to buy new weapons and modernize, while NATO can finally have all the Balkans under its occupation.
Igor Seke works with the conscientious objectors' group within Women in Black Belgrade.