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News 11 Sep 17

Yugoslav Army's Memory Burns Bright Among Ex-Conscripts

A plethora of Facebook pages and other social media groups suggest the old Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, remains a subject of great interest to many of those who once served it.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
JNA conscricpts. Photo: Facebook/Pronadji drugove iz bivse JNA

More than 25 years since it was dissolved, the subject of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, still fascinates many of the people who served it, judging by the number of JNA-themed Facebook pages, websites, forums and blogs.

Despite the legacy of the bloody wars of the 1990s, in which the JNA played a leading part, many of the people who served the army remain interested in the “everyday life” of the army during their own times of service, Tomislav Pletenac, a cultural anthropologist from Zagreb University, told BIRN.

“On the one hand, people in the JNA were under a strong ideological pressure, on the other hand, this was a military institution, where the hierarchy between superiors and subordinates was very strong. This created a form of an internal solidarity among the conscripts,” he said.

“This type of solidarity resembles the one in prisons ... people would count the days before they came out, while those soldiers who were considered ‘snitches’ were collectively punished by their peers,” he noted.

All of this created a form of cohesion among the conscripts, Pletenac explained, especially because, in the later period, the army took in people as young as 18, “which meant that these persons weren’t truly grown up”.   

He said friendships made in the JNA had in many cases persisted over decades, not in homage to the old Yugoslav-era slogan of “Brotherhood and unity” – since “by the 1980s, hardly any of the conscripts believed in the ideology promoted by their superiors” – but more because of a solidarity forged by being “pulled out from everyday civilian life”.

A number of different pages and groups on Facebook are dedicated to the JNA. While some are more nostalgic about the Yugoslav era than others, others focus on shots of different JNA garrisons, military parades and weapons.

With more than 77,000 members, a Facebook group called “Find friends from the former JNA” helps people who served in the army connect up with their fellow conscripts.

The group's search engine helps people to find others through tags placed beneath photos.

The bonding of conscripts in the JNA played a part in the pop culture of the old Yugoslavia, too.

In his 1983 song “Svirajte mi jesen stize Dunjo moja” (“Play ‘Autumn is coming,' for me, my Dunja”), Serbian singer Djordje Balasevic sang about a character who had “made a friend for life” in the JNA, as he returns home to find his former girlfriend marrying another one.

The 2006 film “Karaula” (“Border Post”), by Croatian director Rajko Grlic, set in a remote barracks on the Macedonian-Albanian border, showed the relationship of the JNA conscripts to the ideology promoted by their officers.

In one scene, soldiers rewrite Socialist slogans from the barracks building into the name of a popular Belgrade rock band "Elektricni orgazam" ("Electric Orgasm").

Between 1945 and 1991, all healthy males between the age of 18 and 27 had to undertake military service in Yugoslavia – ranging from one to three years – in a barracks often located in another Yugoslav republic.

Conscripts received a basic military training, as well as more specialized ones, depending on the corps they were serving in.

Conscripts attended classes in which they were taught to protect the values of the Socialist system, as well as lectures on literature and culture and – in the earlier days of Yugoslavia – on personal hygiene and similar topics.

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