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Montenegrins Dodge Draft

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

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


joining".


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


Mothers".


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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