Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Bojan Aleksov became an anti-war activist in 1991. Since 2007, he has been a lecturer in Balkan history at University College London. His very personal perspective on anti-war activism in the former Yugoslavia appeared as 'Resisting the Wars in the Former Yugoslavia: An Autoethnography' in Resisting the Evil: [Post-]Yugoslav Anti-War Contention. Here, he writes from the same personal perspective about how to support conscientious objectors and deserters in times of war.

Conscientious Objection (CO) was never going to be easy, certainly not in Serbia during the 1990s.

Throughout history, people have strived for peace and yet our past often looks like a succession of wars. It's one thing to want peace, another to achieve and maintain it. 'Others' are usually blamed for war and aggression, while we see ourselves or our people as victims. We claim that we are defending ourselves from these vicious 'others'. Even big powers and their more imperially inclined elites usually justify their wars as preventative, defensive, 'good' wars, while enemies are only after 'bad' wars. Indeed, the greatest achievement of modern times in preventing war, or limiting its disastrous consequences, has so far only been to set some rules of how to wage war, and some conventions on war crimes.

Conscientious objection is perhaps more often seen as a moral imperative than as a strategy. However, in countries with active conscription, there can be different ways of avoiding or delaying military service. Some people gain a medical discharge. Others flee, emigrate, choose professions that are exempt from call up, or bribe officials.

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Within two years of its founding in 1998, the Serbian youth group Otpor (Resist) played a central role in bringing down Slobodan Milošević. Initially their campaign aimed to change attitudes towards resisting Milošević, for instance by using nonviolent 'guerilla' tactics of communication (graffiti, street theatre, etc.), often using humour to attract interest and to reduce fear. Increasingly, they put pressure on the divided democratic opposition and found points of unity to counter Milošević and to undermine 'the pillars of his power'.


Nonviolence training workshops played an important role in spreading an understanding of how they could weaken the regime. When Milošević did try to steal the elections, they were in a position to expose him and ultimately to stop him. When crowds surrounded the parliament building, the police were unwilling to disperse them. The most famous image is of a bulldozer driving into the parliament; by that time, the police made no effort to prevent this. The next day Milošević resigned.

Otpor had played a vital role in achieving a necessary step in democratising Serbia—removing Milošević—but subsequent progress towards democracy has been disappointing.


'Bringing Down a Dictator', DVD, 60 minutes, a production of York Zimmerman Inc., Washington, D.C., USA Albert Cevallos,'Whither the Bulldozer?: Nonviolent Revolution and the Transition to Democracy in Serbia' (US Institute of Peace special report No 72 - downloadable from The Website for the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action. Strategies includes articles by Otpor activists and others on their strategy and tactics:

Author: Tanjug

Belgrade - The peace group Women in Black announced today that last night around 1:30 am, two young men invaded the organization's headquarters and with a hammer attacked men and women activists in the kitchen.

This incident took place just before the holding of the Pride Parade in Belgrade, which indicates that homophobia is the motive of the attackers, a statement declared.

With Serbia, the last country of the former Yugoslavia is abolishing conscription. Radio Srbija reported on 16 July that from 1 January 2011 on, Serbia will have fully professional armed forces. According to an interview of Minister of Defence Dragan Sutanovac with Ekonom:east Magazine, the plan is to have 10600 professional soldiers and 2000 places for those who wish to serve voluntarily. According to the report of Radio Srbija there are already 8,000 applications, of which 1,600 (20%) are from women.

On March the 30th, 2010. the Parliament of Serbia adopted the Declaration on condemning the crime in Srebrenica.

After a long debate in the Parliament, when we could hear fascist statements from the members of Radical party, Democratic party of Serbia and Serbian Progressive party, the members of the Parliament adopted the Declaration on condemning the crimes in Srebrenica.

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