Serbia Considers Restoring Compulsory Military Service for Men

(Bloomberg) -- Serbia is considering restoring its compulsory military service for men, a plan that is drawing sharp criticism from the opposition in a Balkan country still scarred from the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Aleksandar Vulin said his Defense Ministry was working on a “comprehensive analysis” to return to the tradition, which was abolished in 2011. His comments on Thursday come just two days after President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia will look into the costs and benefits of making all able-bodied men serve three to six months in the army from as early as 2020.

“When we lived in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, we believed that we lived in a country that would never fall apart and that war was a just a thing of the past,” Vulin said. “Unfortunately, we saw it happen to us, to our generation,” he said. More than 100,000 were killed and millions were displaced during the wars that ended in 1999.

Opposition parties denounced the idea floated by Vucic, a former information minister for the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Former Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac, a member of the opposition Democratic Party, tweeted that the move would be a “step back for Serbia.”

Yet the plan may resonate with the public in the country of 7 million, which is seeking to join the European Union next decade. A poll by the Research Center for Defense and Security in June showed that 74 percent of people were in favor of reinstating conscription.

Serbia is also boosting its defense spending this year to at least 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) with upgrades of its air force, infantry and artillery, the president said last month.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.