The President’s call for the restoration of compulsory military service has met an angry response from a group of NGOs who say it would reinforce backward-looking patriarchal and militaristic values.

Serbian NGOs Condemn Vucic’s Call for Compulsory Military Service

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (C), Prime Minister Ana Brnabic (L) and Nebojsa Stefanovic (R). 24 September 2020. EPA-EFE/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC

A group of Serbian NGOs has sharply criticised President Vucic’s call for the re-introduction of compulsory military service as a retrograde move designed to militarize Serbia and make it fearful.

“Repeated campaigns for the introduction of compulsory military service in Serbia represent meaningless and cynical propaganda in the function of militarization, patriarchal control and fear,” the group of NGOs said in a joint statement on May 11.

President Aleksandar Vucic on Tuesday said a public debate on the return of obligatory military service had just been opened, while conceding that his proposal for its return may not be adopted.

The NGOs recalled hat the right to conscientious objection in Serbia was recognized in 2003, and that parliament voted for the suspension of compulsory military service in 2011.

“The constitution guarantees the right to conscientious objection, so there is no possibility of introducing military service for those who do not want it, and those who do can do so through voluntary military service,” the statement said.

The statement was signed by Women in Black, the Center for Anti-War Action, Civic Action, Conceptual Policy Group, Youth Center CK13, Ravangrad, the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina, Peace Movement Becej, the Spiritual Republic Zicer and Civic Resistance.

“I am for it, but we will see how it will be decided. There are arguments for and against, but this is a democratic state and everything must be discussed,” President Vucic said.

According to Vucic, if his idea is accepted, obligatory military service would last 90 days. Recruitment would begin in 2023 and would cover all men aged 18 to 26.

Restoring compulsory military service is supported by the Minister of Defence, Nebojsa Stefanovic, who said that a working group had been formed which would examine all the possibilities for restoring it; a final decision would be made by September or October.

The topic of reintroducing compulsory military service is not new. In 2021, Minister Stefanovic said the fact that “Serbia has decided to be a militarily neutral country [means] that it needs a strong army”.

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