The War is Not Over Yet
On the anniversary of the beginning of NATO bombing which brought about the escalation of the war in Kosovo and the largest military operations in Europe since WWII, we want to once again speak for those for whom the war is not over yet. Namely, the numerous imprisoned or exiled deserters and conscientious objectors from Serbia who still suffer from refusing to wage a war against civilians in Kosovo or simply refusing to be sacrificial lamb of Milosevic in the pointless war with NATO.
Ever since the cease fire was signed between Milosevic and NATO in June last year, Milosevic’s regime has maintained the permanent state of low scale warfare. The tensions are created with Montenegro, around the administrative border with Kosovo and all over the country by constant oppression of media, opposition groups and activists. An important part of this low intensity war politics was the severe persecution of deserters and conscientious objectors what we vastly wrote about in our previous reports. Recently this was joined by renewed forced mobilizations and rumors spread about another conflict, another war. The constant creation of fear among the Serbian people by Milosevic’s regime is unfortunately paralleled by NATO military maneuvers in Kosovo. As if everything is going smoothly in Kosovo and there is nothing else to spend money on. (You can find more on the new wave of mobilization in the March report of Stasa Zajovic from Women in Black and about the resistance in the town of Kraljevo in the March 15 report of Institute for War and Peace Reporting.)
Our other major concern is the fate of the deserters and conscientious objectors who fled Serbia. In the Safe House project in Budapest, Hungary we developed a range of activities to improve their unfortunate status (a summary of which you can find in the annual report). The most deplorable impediment in our work however is almost complete lack of will on behalf of NATO countries’ governments and international organizations to recognize these people as refugees. A comprehensive US State Department report on human rights violations in Serbia from the 24th of February for example, barely mentions the issue here and describes the mobilizations in Serbia in last year as sporadic and speaks of the persecution of political leaders only. Foreign embassies in Budapest refuse to issue visas to deserters regardless if they apply for short visit or immigration or ask for refugee status.
Nevertheless, we will continue searching for ways to legalize the status of deserters in Hungary or for other countries to accept them as refugees. In the same time, we are trying together with some other human rights activists to draw both Hungarian and international public attention to the humiliating living conditions of Debrecen refugee camp, where some of deserters are also housed. According to their testimonies they are often deprived of basic medical treatment. Actually, even medical treatment depends on personal relationship to camp authorities. Some reported that they couldn’t even have a tooth pulled out without paying. The camp authorities are also said to be easily corrupted, which is a perennial problem here, so everything can be bought - better room, better food... Sometimes the inhabitants are additionally maltreated. The Police wakes them up in the middle of the night for "identity" check up.
Recently there was an epidemic in the camp in Debrecen that the authorities tried to hid as it started because of poor living conditions in the camp. Similar thing happened this winter throughout Hungary with the epidemic of meningitis. It was discovered that it had first spread among recruits in poorly maintained military barracks. The campaigners against conscription are now using this situation as another argument that compulsory military service should be abolished as it poses a threat to public health. Could we say the same for the refugee camps?