Serbian Deserters in Hungary Face a New Dilemma


From the Safe House Project in Budapest

Dramatic political changes in Serbia and the euphoria created in the Western media thereafter have clouded many of Serbia's deep and not easily resolved traumas. One of the many is that of Serbian deserters, those who refused to fight Milosevic's wars and fled Serbia. The last wave of desertion occurred during the Kosovo war in the spring of 1999. The ones who fled then were not recognized by NATO and European Union countries as legitimate asylum claimants and were forced to stay in Serbia's neighboring countries into which they fled illegally. The largest group found a refuge in Hungary where they were tolerated but never offered a long term status or adequate social, psychological or medical assistance and protection. Now after almost two years of exile these people face a new dilemma and new difficulties.

Since the removal of Milosevic in Serbia there have been efforts to stabilize political, economic and security circumstances. Despite tremendous changes, the balance of power is still fragile with Milosevic's key allies controlling the army, police and secret police forces. On the more positive side there are public initiatives, backed by the new ruling political forces, for an Amnesty law that would abolish from further prosecution all those that broke the laws concerning military duties in past several years. It is worth mentioning here that even before the amnesty initiative the government pardoned imprisoned conscientious objectors and deserters, thus ending the process already initiated by Milosevic's authorities earlier this summer. However these were acts of mercy and not of amnesty from guilt.

With the new Amnesty law in sight the deserters staying abroad would be able to return to Serbia without danger of facing legal charges. But this seems to be the only benefit at the moment. Upon the return the deserters would have to face many other difficulties and uncertainties as not much changed since they left almost two years ago.
If called up for regular military service or occasional military exercises they would not have an option of a genuinely alternative civilian service. Furthermore, they would have to face contempt of their immediate environment sometimes even family members who would scorn them for abandoning and betraying the country when it was attacked by NATO and suffered some of the most tragic moments in recent history.
Many of them would not be able to get their jobs back as they were legally fired after leaving the country and not reporting either to military or work duty. Some others would not even find their apartments as they had to sell them in order to pay for their escape and stay in Hungary sometimes with family and children during the past months of uncertainty and fear.

It is because of all of this that the Serbian deserters staying in refugee camps or elsewhere in Hungary do not share the euphoria of Western media. For the time being they still fear, and reasonably so, the return and what is awaiting them on the other side of the border. They need to be supported in whatever decision they take. They need both moral and financial support in case they attempt a risky and uncertain return but also in case they decide to stay abroad and wait for more positive signs from Serbia, for tensions to calm down and for they to feel more secure and mentally and emotionally ready for such a move. Because the problems don't disappear over night despite what media say or omit to say.

Bojan Aleksov

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