The incident in front of the Serbian parliament on March 29. Photo: Rade Maroevic.
Poor standards of living for soldiers, post-traumatic stress disorder and the lack of legislation to assist war veterans are causing suffering and leading to incidents like the suicide threat outside parliament on Thursday, the Serbian Army Union and Veterans’ Association told BIRN.
“We have announced in many of our press releases that this will happen more and more often,” said Novica Antic, the head of the Serbian Army Union.
“Members [of the army] who fought in wars now feel abandoned, disappointed and rejected,” Antic warned.
He said that more than 75 per cent of Serbian Army troops have lower earnings than average and that many of them live in “debt bondage” because they are paying off loans.
Serbian media reported on Thursday that a Serbian Army soldier threatened to blow himself up in front of the parliament building in Belgrade.
Reports said that the man had a pistol and a hand grenade. After talking with police, he surrendered.
The incident in front of the Serbian parliament on March 29. Photo: Beta.
Antic said that more than 80 per cent of Serbian Army soldiers are war veterans.
“In a three-year period, we had three suicide attempts and one suicide,” he added.
The body of one soldier was found on Monday morning in his apartment in the southern Serbian city of Nis.
Although there is still no official confirmation, Serbian media reported that he killed himself.
In July 2016, a major threatened to set himself on fire in front of the Ministry of Defence. After it was agreed his case would be discussed, he went home.
In March 2016, one soldier shot himself in the head in the local headquarters of the Army in the city of Zajecar.
One month earlier, one of the members of the Serbian Special Forces killed himself on duty in Belgrade.
In October 2016, a retired soldier threatened he would kill himself in front of the Serbian government building with a bomb.
He was arrested, and police said his suicide threat was caused by “personal issues”.
In May 2017, another soldier from Loznica committed suicide by throwing himself in the Danube. Serbian media reported that he did it because of debts.
The head of the Serbian war veterans’ association, Zeljko Vukelic, told BIRN that the organisation has four psychologists who help veterans.
“We have group sessions, but also individual sessions, as many are ashamed to admit they have problems,” Vukelic explained.
Vukelic added that out of five veterans who voluntarily work every day in the office of the Association, three have been diagnosed with PTSD.
“It is very common and the state is not investing in resolving this issue,” he said.
He suggested that the majority of cases of domestic violence involving veterans are also caused by PTSD.
“The initial spark is usually something small, an everyday event which awakens the worst in a person,” he said.
Vukelic agreed that Serbia urgently need a Law on Veterans and added that his Association will present its own draft legislation on Saturday.
“After that we will start gathering 30,000 signatures of support so we can put it on the [agenda of the] Serbian parliament,” he said.
The issues raised by petitions that gather 30,000 signatures are put on the parliamentary agenda.