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News 20 Jan 17

Serbian President’s War Talk Startles Veterans

After the Serbian President claimed he and his sons were ready to fight in Kosovo, veterans associations and the army union say its questionable how many would follow them.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Novi Sad
Tomislav Nikolic, the Serbian President [left] and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/AP

After Tomislav Nikolic, the Serbian President, said he and his sons were ready to fight in Kosovo if need be, the Association of participants in armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia and the Military Union of Serbia have warned that, owing to the state’s lack of care for veterans and current serving soldiers, the number of people ready to fight for Serbia anywhere is declining.

Zeljko Vukelic, from the Association of participants of the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia, some veterans may be ready to go to Kosovo, but far fewer than back in the Nineties.

He told BIRN that most war veterans do not view calls for new wars sympathetically.

Veterans feel the government betrayed them, he said.

“The state didn’t repay war veterans in any way over the last 20 years. No adequate laws were passed, even though the constitution of Serbia says war veterans and war invalids have special rights defined in law. We are fighting for one such law to be adopted but the state remains deaf to this issue,” Vukelic said.

Vukelic said the veterans are aware they have been used, feel expendable and believe that those who benefited most from their actions are the people in power who then feed the war rhetoric and score points from it.

“Those who are fair and honourable after these wars want peace and reconciliation for the sake of the future life of our children,” Vukelic concluded.

Novica Antic, head of the Military Union of Serbia which, along with the Police Union of Serbia, organized a street protest over working conditions and low salaries last December, said about 2,000 people had left the Serbian Army in 2016 alone.

“Trained people are leaving us and soon we won’t have the people trained to handle the equipment,” Antic told BIRN.

Antic said people serving the in armed forces often work 400 to 500 hours a month but still do not get paid regularly.

He warned if Serbia does not do something about the military, it is questionable whether it will have the army that citizens expect.

He added that 76 per cent members of the Army earn salaries lower than the average in Serbia which is around 370 euros.

“It is not acceptable,” he said, adding that a new street protest on the topic of pay and conditions will be held on February 11.

“The protest is aimed at ensuring that the Serbian Army has the capacity to carry out its tasks in future. If we continue with this kind of attitude towards the staff in the defence system it is questionable whether the Army can do its job,” Antic said.

President Nikolic said Serbia was ready to send its military back into the former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, if local Serbs were under threat.

“If they kill Serbs, yes. Not only the military. We're all going to go. I will go first. It is not my first time,” Nikolic said January 15, in middle of a crisis between Serbia and Kosovo over Belgrade's decision to send a train covered in nationalist slogans and pictures to Kosovo the day before.

Days later, Nikolic restated his assertion. “We are not warmongering but we are talking about this if Serbian people in Kosovo are in jeopardy. And yes, I said I would go to war if need be, like my sons,” Nikolic told the daily Kurir on January 17.

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