Serbia is a deeply divided country regarding the main orientation of its foreign relations: while some political parties and approximately half of its population would like to see Serbia in the European Union as soon as possible, other politicians and citizens look toward Russia and would like their homeland to become a Russian province, as Tomislav Nikolic said in the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia in 2007.
The latter ones belong to the extreme political right and include various associations of nationalists, Serbian Orthodox Church and some social groups whose members call themselves “patriots” (such as hooligans who have recently demolished the center of Belgrade, expressing their “attitude” towards the Belgrade Gay Pride Parade, and made riots in Genoa, confirming their “love” for the national football team and a high level of patriotism.
In the prime of the newest public discussion on patriotism and the origin of violence in the Serbian society, daily Belgrade newspaper Danas wrote on Oct. 19 that two years ago, several groups of Serbian children, aged 11 to 15 years old, had spent 16 days in scout camps in Russia, where they were being trained to assemble and dismantle weapons, to throw bombs, and to fire rifles.
These children were sent to Russia by the Patriotic Front, an association of 1990-1999 Serbian war veterans (the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia, including the war against NATO).
Zoran Vranesevic, general secretary of the association, said to Danas that the two groups, which consisted of 20 children of war veterans, had attended the scout camps in Russia in order to learn about Russia’s traditions, culture and religion, to develop their patriotic spirit and to learn to fight against their vices.
The main goal of the Patriotic Front was not to train children in marksmanship but to make sure that the children didn’t inherit the complexes of their fathers, the veterans, who are marginalized by the society, Vranesevic added.
During the unusual and unique sojourn in Siberia, the children got a chance to take part in a writing competition on a simple topic – “My stay in Russia” – which had been announced by the hosts (primarily, the Russian patriotic association Kosovo’s Front).
U. L. (13) wrote that Russians had given them knowledge about weapons, they had been training them in fencing and throwing knives, teaching them how to become skilled and persistent. He added:
We experienced a baptism of fire in the first camp where it was the most difficult. We lived there close to nature, eating the new, very simple and unusual dishes with much fruit, bitter cheeses, washing our dishes in the river, taking baths in it, taking part in battles, had exercises on the firing range, assembling and dismantling rifles, like in the real army, riding horses…”
M. K. (15) described his experience in one of the three camps in which they were staying:
In this camp, we had various trainings over the day, such as surmounting of the firing range, riding horses and coming down from trees on ropes. When we finished those exercises we had lunch but no one liked it. However, we ate because we were hungry. In the evening, we were dancing traditional Cossack dances. The next day, we went to the rifle range where we were firing rifles and throwing bombs. That day I was firing so much that my ears were ringing for the next three days.
Psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin says that children should not be trained to use weapons, but to communicate tolerantly. Military training could have very negative effects on children who are unstable emotionally and insufficiently socialized.
Sociologist Ratko Bozovic said this, among other things:
Throwing bombs and firing rifles are an attraction for the children and they find self-confirmation in such acts of violence.
Tamara Lukšić-Orlandić, Serbia's Deputy Ombudsman for children's rights, said to Danas that children should not be trained to use weapons because it is not adequate for their ages to behave “like guerrillas.” She reminded that Serbia had international obligations to protect children, because it is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to her, any contact of children with weapons is not desirable, because it could have negative effects on the development of a person.
The web site of Abrasevic Media, which is mainly focused on the analysis of society in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country where the biggest war crimes were committed by some ethnic Serbs, who were later sentenced in the Hague Tribunal, published a commentary article, an excerpt of which is below:
Serbia, an eternally peaceful, tolerant and friendly country, always gives us nice surprises: after the clerically-fascistic celebration on Belgrade’s streets in regard to the Pride Parade and the art installation in Genoa, we have found out that something calling itself the Association of War Veterans of all Serbian Countries 1990-1999, the Patriotic Front, freely exists in this country. […]
[…] For the orthodox children, the Serbian Patriotic Front organizes stays in Russian camps, where kids can learn everything connected with weapons: how to fire a rifle, how to approach the enemy from the back, how to love Putin more than their own parents, how to become proper Serbian fascists and help your country in the fight against a lot of its enemies […]
Below is a selection of comments that readers left on the forum of the website vidovdan.org, mainly devoted to Serbian traditions and the so-called “national question.”
[…] If children went to the gays to learn how to use vaseline under all circumstances, that would be OK.
[…] People are sending children to reconnaissance camps to be trained to use weapons, and I would make it obligatory, because, in a few years, if people would like to survive in this democracy, they would have to start hunting […]
If only our army and country organized such camps.
The website B92 re-published some pieces of the article from Danas, and readers left more than 70 comments to it. Here are just three of them:
Instead of sending children to visit the Museum of Chocolate in Brussels in order to enjoy the best chocolate in the world, they are sending them to Moscow to go through training to become little terrorists.
I don’t see what the drama is about. In Britain, you have the right to join the army if you are 16 years old, and many British people do. If these things are controlled by adults, I don’t see what is bad in that case.
Someone was training children in firing and using various kinds of weapons and in that way they committed a criminal act of terrorism and sabotage according to the Criminal Statute…
According to Danas, Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia will check the information about the case, and if he finds any criminal elements in it, he will act in accordance with the law.