Yugoslavs dodge a widening draft

Some reject Milosevic and unwinnable war

April 10, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia -- Dragan Soc dares the Yugoslav army authorities to come and take him away.

The 42-year-old father of two collects conscription notices like parking tickets. He gives interviews and sets himself up as one of this country's more famous draft dodgers, reasoning that if the army really wants him, it knows exactly where to reach him.

Soc is Montenegro's justice minister.

"A few days ago, I told the army publicly, if they intend to judge people, start with me," Soc said yesterday.

These are stressful times for men like Soc, Yugoslavia's best and brightest, who are being called upon by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to defend their land. Not only is their country under NATO attack, but if they're between the ages of 18 and 65, these men are eligible to be called up for military service.

But in recent weeks, some of Yugoslavia's men have headed for the hills. Although no figures are kept, many here believe that draft dodging has reached epidemic proportions.

It's not that the resisters don't have national pride; they just don't want to lose their lives in a war many believe can't be won.

Some blend into communities, changing apartments or simply table-hopping in cafes.

Montenegro is a hotbed of anti-draft sentiment; the Yugoslav republic professes its neutrality in the conflict and keeps its distance from Belgrade.

But few of the military resisters are as brave or as brash as Soc. Sitting in his office, chain-smoking cigarettes and dressed all in black, including his tennis shoes, Soc sought to explain his anti-war stand.

He said the war goes against Yugoslavia's constitution since Milosevic launched the Kosovo conflict without following proper procedures. He also claims that serving military papers on a government minister "is an abuse, a political provocation."

"In America, I'm not sure they would send a draft notice to a member of a presidential administration," said Soc, who served a one-year military hitch in 1980-1981, before attending law school.

From his wallet, he produced three flimsy pieces of paper -- the conscription notices.

"Ah, I make a collection," he said. "But I expect more."

His first note arrived in March. The second came in April. The third was delivered Thursday, tacked to the front of his house.

"They are pretty persistent," he said.

Soc said that if the army catches up to him, he could face a hearing in a military court and potential jail sentence. The court happens to be right by his house.

"I meet them [military court officials] every morning and say hello," he claimed.

Others are not quite as brazen.

Meet a 27-year-old architect from Belgrade who provides only his first name, Dragan.

Last week, the police came knocking on the door of his mother's house looking for him.

Dragan was out, but he got the message and skipped town, heading out on one of the last trains to Montenegro.

"I'm safe here because the government of President Milo Djukanovic is opposed to the law of the Serbian government," Dragan said. "He is not trying to capture those who do not want to go in the army."

Asked how many of his friends were forgoing military service, Dragan said, "Literally everyone. I don't know any person joining the army at the moment."

"I don't think my country is under attack by NATO," he added. "NATO is trying to pull down Milosevic. I can't fight against the whole world. It's not my war."

Dragan is hopeful that the war will end in 10 or 15 days, so he can return to Belgrade.

"I want NATO to win," he said. "It is the only way for Serbia to lose Milosevic."

Of course, not everyone agrees with the resisters. At a cafe filled with Yugoslav officers, soldiers talk of serving their country.

"If we didn't fight, we'd have no kind of state," said a 36-year-old career soldier who gave his name as Dragoslav. "We're on our own."

Vukic, 49, was called back into service last month, and he willingly reported.

"When us elderly dig into our trenches, we are stubborn and won't give up," he said.

Others have quit in disgust.

Vlado is a 26-year-old who has been AWOL since June. The day the army private was due to be sent to fight in Kosovo, he crawled out his barracks window, slipped off his uniform, put on civilian clothes and left his base.

"It was like in a movie," he said.

He trekked through mountains, sprinted down a road, caught a cab and then was bound for Belgrade on a bus that crashed 12 miles from the city center. He hopped on another bus, got to the train station and headed home to Montenegro.

"I was afraid of going to Kosovo," he said. "Everyone was scared. No one wanted to go."

Vlado doesn't want Yugoslavia to lose the war. But he also doesn't want to die young.

He was reminded of his mortality recently when television pictures showed his former military base at Leskovac after it was attacked by NATO.

"There's nothing left there," he said. "It blew up."

Pub Date: 4/10/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.