Montenegrins Dodge Draft

Montenegrins appear to be losing their once legendary devotion to military service.

Montenegrins Dodge Draft

Montenegrins appear to be losing their once legendary devotion to military service.

Friday, 4 August, 2000

Montenegrins have always been renowned for their love of weapons and their

twin ideals of "dignity and bravery". In the former Yugoslavia, they were

caricatured from Ljubljana to Skopje for their devotion to the army.

Montenegrins swelled the ranks of the officer corps; young man who

didn't serve would find it difficult to marry in a society which measured

character by military prowess.

But a decade of conflict across the former Yugoslavia has left its mark on

Montenegrins. The enthusiasm with which they besieged the Croatian city of

Dubrovnik in 1991 has long since ebbed away. Today they are reluctant to

be roped into any more military adventures by Yugoslav President Slobodan

Milosevic. Unease over events in Kosovo, fear of more needless loss of

life and uncertainty about Milosevic's intentions towards their republic

have sullied their once uncritical view of the army.

In Niksic, 23-year-old Predrag received his call-up papers a few days ago.

"I am not going anywhere until the situation is clearer," he says. "For

one thing, we are not sure we are in the same country as Serbia any more."

Predrag is convinced Montenegrin conscripts receive harsher treatment than their Serb counterparts and says most of his friends share that view.

His draft papers were delivered by a local postman. The Montenegrin police,

controlled by President Milo Djukanovic,no longer help the army track

down unwilling conscripts. This leaves postmen with an unenviable legal

obligation of delivering call-up orders by any means necessary. Some spend

long hours trying to locate and then ambush wayward recruits. On the other

hand, in a small town like Niksic, friendly relations with the postman can

result in draft papers getting "lost in the post".

There was a time when bribery got you out of army service, but nowadays only full-time

students are exempt - and then only temporarily. Even

recruits with bad medical reports are sent for exhaustive examinations at

military hospitals in Podgorica and Belgrade, with no guarantee of

exemption at the end. The only alternative is to evade the

draft. But those who have not yet served in the army cannot easily obtain

passports and Montenegro's size makes it difficult for draft-dodgers to lie

low, as they can in a city the size of Belgrade.

Many join-up in the end because they can't face a hermit-like existence hiding in some mountain village or being accused of cowardice "Bravery is an achilles' heel for

Montenegrins," says 22-year-old Pavle. "In time of war, the stigma of

cowardice may be stronger than concerns over what kind of army we might be


Yet during the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, several young Montenegrin

recruits deserted as their units were sent to Kosovo. Predrag Calasan

from Niksic was among them. A military court sentenced him in absentia to seven year in jail. He is now in hiding.

Once revered among ordinary citizens as a guardian of revolutionary ideals,

the army is slowly losing respect. The military have even stopped tending

war memorials, leaving their upkeep to the Montenegrin Red Cross.

In Niksic, the antics of the Seventh Battalion, a paramilitary force fiercely

loyal to President Milosevic, has soured relations further.

Its members recently took up position in the centre of Niksic,

shouting political slogans and obsenities and "jokingly" pointing their

sub-machine guns at passers-by. In a separate incident, a drunken Seventh

Battallion sergeant attacked diners in a restaurant, cursing their "Turkish


Army units also recently blocked off the road from Niksic to Trebinje.

"They behave like an army of occupation" says 45-year-old Zorka, whose

previous unswerving loyalty to Belgrade has evaporated in recent years.

Yet whatever the provocation, police are under strict orders not to

respond, says a source close to the Montenegrin government. The army is

thought to be trying to provoke an incident as a pretext for taking over

the Montenegro's borders and closing the republic off altogether.

The military has already closed the Bozaj border crossing with Albania once,

demanding that Albanians show visas, even though the Montenegrin government

has lifted the visa requirement for foreign visitors. While the

constitution requires the army to secure the borders, it is not entitled to

control border crossings or block roads.

While US ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, warned a few days ago that

NATO would not stand by while Yugoslav Second Army units and the Seventh

Battalion tighten their military grip over Montenegro, few analysts in

Podgorica believe the international community would really act to defend

Montenegro's integrity. In the meantime, President Djukanovic

continues to plod towards independence. "Montenegro will follow its own

political course," he said recently. "Nobody else will dictate what we

do, not even Milosevic's guards."

Dragana Nikolic is an IWPR contributor

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