In-short | LGBTI

Montenegrin Army bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation

By - 24.11.2017

First legislation of its type in the Western Balkans.

The dominantly patriarchal Montenegrin society has traditionally, through out history, attached large significance to serving in the army. Since August, the state also has a law that enables everybody to voluntarily serve in the military, but also bans all discrimination in the army, including, for the first time after 11 years, on the basis of sexual orientation.

However, despite this ruling, most of our interlocutors claim that a lot of time will pass until it becomes ‘normal’ that a publicly declared LGBT person serves in the Montenegrin military.

Nonetheless, Danijel Kalezic, the president of the board of directors for the Queer Montenegro NGO welcomed the decision. “Hopefully it emerges from the notion that LGBT people can be additionally discriminated against in a profession such as the military, which is of a more traditional male, patriarchal, and heteronormative character,” he tells K2.0. “Because of this, special protection by the law is needed so that basic conditions are met for their visibility in the army.”

Journalist Dusica Tomovic, who has been covering military issues for years, believes that a lot of time will pass until somebody in the defense system can openly speak about their sexuality.

“It is a fact that it is perceived as ‘a male job,’ not only in Montenegro, and that women still don’t feel comfortable in the army, let alone an LGBT person,” she says. “That’s why I only see it as an article of the law that looks nice on paper without any real desire or will for something to be done in practice.”

The law is one thing, reality another

By introducing this law, Montenegro has become the first country in the region to introduce a provision banning discrimination against LGBT people in the army. Despite some cynicism about its implementation, the Ministry of Defense have said they will do everything for the law not to remain ‘a dead letter on paper.’

“We believe that through the continuous training of soldiers, we will overcome possible prejudices about the LGBT population,” the Army of Montenegro wrote in an email to K2.0. The email also outlines new positions created within the army in order to combat discrimination, including a designated contact person for LGBT individuals.

Our interlocutor, whose identity is known to the editorial staff, indifferently awaits the adoption of this provision. He declares himself as a trans person who has ambitions to join the army, but believes that sexual orientation and gender identities aren’t, and should not be, crucial when it comes to the military.

“The Army accepts anyone who applies to serve and meets the criteria. People don’t apply as gay, straight, or lesbian. Nobody asks you who you are, what you are or what your orientation is. It is completely irrelevant. Everybody saying differently, is lying,” said our interlocutor.

"If a soldier meets physical and psychological conditions, I don't see why his possible being a member of the LGBT community would influence combat effectiveness."

Filip Rakonjac

He’s not the only person to believe sexual orientation is largely irrelevant in regard to serving in the armed forces. Young journalist Filip Rakonjac, who also has ambitions to serve in the army, “so that he can help his country when needed,” says that he wouldn’t mind having an LGBT person as a fellow combatant.

“If a soldier meets physical and psychological conditions, I don’t see why being a member of the LGBT community would influence combat effectiveness,” Rakonjac told K2.0, adding that he still thinks that, due to the specific role of the army, “sexual orientation of the soldier isn’t important, hence it isn’t necessary to stress it.”

Rakonjac claims that the army already has openly LGBT individuals who don’t suffer any consequences for being a member of the community. Asked whether he expects that their number will grow, because now the law shields them too, he responds: “Maybe it will, maybe not. I believe that this issue doesn’t depend on the law, but what society will say about them. Let’s be honest, we live in Montenegro, in the Balkans, there will always be prejudices. But regardless, they should step into service if they so desire and can deal with it.”

Danijel Kalezic, from Queer Montenegro, is not aware of any members of the armed forces that publicly declare as LGBT. He is also surprised that this law was adopted without  pressure from international acts, or obligations originating from Montenegro’s NATO membership.

Attitudes of citizens

A research paper, titled “Attitudes of citizens on serving in Montenegro’s army,” conducted amongst students by the Atlantic Alliance NGO, shows that as many as 55 percent of young people would enlist for serving in the army for up to three months if they had the chance to. Bearing in mind such a high percentage, there is large possibility that among those who declared themselves as wanting to enlist, there are members of the LGBT community.

The right to enlist is open to all those aged 18 to 23 who meet the psychological and physical criteria, are not convicted, and don’t have citizenship of another country. They can enlist for service for up to six months, which are spent in barracks, studying how to handle weapons, learning military discipline, and obtaining financial compensation. Currently 50,000 people meet the age criteria for enlisting in the army. The Army of Montenegro plans to have 100 people serving the military voluntarily on a yearly basis.K

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