Weary from three wars, some Serbians defy the draft
KRALJEVO, SERBIA — In the year since Milosav Jasovic left home to fight for Serbia in Kosovo, his family has sued the Yugoslav Army for his death, refused his posthumous medal, and is still trying to understand why and how he died.
"It doesn't matter how many children you have, even if you have 10 children. But lose one - then the pain is the same," says Jasovic's mother, Zlatana, rummaging through photos, plastic bags, and faded envelopes that hold memories of her son.
The family is not alone in its grief in this 120,000-strong municipality in central Serbia. Jasovic was one of thousands of reservists called up by Yugoslav authorities.
Kraljevo's men have fought and died, not just in Kosovo, but in Bosnia, and before that in Croatia. There are many veterans of all three wars who are simply ordinary civilians, who must chose between conceding to the draft or facing arrest and imprisonment.
Kraljevo is a major military town. "We have everything here except the Navy," says the Democratic Party president of the municipality, Zvonko Obradovic.
He will not detail the military facilities that made Kraljevo a target for bombing during the war. But others say that a major military airfield, infantry, armored, artillery, and logistic units are based in the town, or close by.
"Of course the professional servicemen are citizens too," says Mr. Obradovic, "but my concern is for ordinary people who are drafted to serve."
In the last war, 1 in 5 of the total population here - around 23,000 people - were called up for Kosovo. Forty-one of those who fought never returned.
But in the last two weeks, protests in Kraljevo have drawn Belgrade's attention. A new mobilization is under way, and this time hundreds of men are bravely defying it.
Dragica Ratkovic has fought in all three wars and now is one of the leaders of the civilian draftees who have had enough.
When the call-up notices went out this time, the men protested. The veterans are asking that other men in Serbia - particularly those in Belgrade who have been protected from the call-up - should also serve their time.
They demand that those who have fought in one war should be excused a call-up for another, that the Kraljevo men already called should be released, and that the current mobilization should be stopped.
Last Wednesday the reservists met with a high-ranking Army delegation. The Army sent seven officers to talk to the reservists, including two generals from Belgrade and five colonels.
"We have given General Ojdanic some trouble," says Mr. Ratkovic, referring to Yugoslav defense minister and former Army chief of staff, Dragoljub Ojdanic.
The local city council, led by Obradovic, has lent its support to the men. Kraljevo is opposition- controlled.
"The demands of the reservists are the demands of the people of Kraljevo," says Obradovic. "Nobody knows how many people have been mobilized - a few thousand have received call-up papers. "They are afraid for their families and for their very existence. That's the reason for these protests."
In the small bedroom in his flat, Gordon Raskovic, another reservist leader, who fought in Kosovo, says, "We did have a conversation with the military authorities. We told them what we wanted. We told them our demands, and after that they answered us." But the draft continues - and so, says Mr. Raskovic, the protest will go on.
"People have realized, finally, that it is not a matter of defending the country, but of defending someone's personal interests.... The whole world for the last 10 years considers us as war criminals and savages," says Raskovic.
Now the reservists of Kraljevo have staged a mutiny. "The most important thing is our statement that we are not going in response to a call-up unless someone else declares war on our country," Raskovic continues. "If there is a total mobilization, we have openly declared that no one will take us to Montenegro - there is no way and no call-up where we will do that. And we will also refuse if there are civilian protests; if someone wants to use the army against civilian demonstrators."
Soon after the reservists began their protest, they made a statement on the local authority-owned television station, TV Kraljevo. The station, which reaches an audience far wider than the municipality - broadcast the demands of the insurgent reservists.
Days later, the federal telecommunications ministry moved against the television station, claiming it lacked a frequency license. Transmission equipment was taken away and the link for the television cut. Nightly protests rocked the city square as 5,000 to 10,000 people protested against the draft, for their television station, and against President Slobodan Milosevic.
For the first time, on Wednesday, leading opposition Belgrade politicians came to Kraljevo to show their support, addressing a rally that was more than 10,000 strong - the biggest anti-Milosevic protest in Serbia this year. On Saturday, the Yugoslav Ministry of Telecommunications returned a transmitter to the station, and some demonstrators said the daily protests would be scaled back.
It means nothing to grieving Zlatana - nothing can bring back her son. But it may help others.
"I don't want any family to go through what we have endured," says Zlatana's son Jivota.
Last Wednesday, as the central square filled with people and echoed to speeches against Milosevic, a young boy held up a placard: "Kraljevo is the world."
It was an echo of the Belgrade motto from the 1996 demonstrations that almost toppled the regime.
Will the revolution start in Kraljevo? "I hope so," says Obradovic. "We will give an example to the people of Belgrade. People will see that Kraljevo is the world."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society