Debate after rampages: What’s wrong in Serbia?


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Status: 05/10/2023 00:48 a.m

After two killing sprees that killed 17, things are brewing in Serbia. The President makes announcements to disarm the country. But are the many weapons in the country really the real problem?

Thousands of white lilies, many stuffed animals and pictures lie in front of the school in the center of Belgrade, in the week ago a 13-year-old shot dead eight of his classmates and a security guard. People still come here, lay flowers, light candles. Many children and young people are among them, such as 16-year-old Mihajlo. “I felt the need to come here,” he says. “These were kids, 13 years old. It’s really awful.”

Many people in Serbia still cannot believe what happened in their country in the past week. Just two days after the killing spree At school, a 21-year-old shot and killed eight people in several villages for reasons that were previously unknown. Two violent excesses in such a short time – many are left at a loss.

According to the country’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, the problem is the large number of weapons in the country – both legal and illegal. Vucic therefore announced immediately after the second rampage that they would “almost completely disarm Serbia.”

President Vucic commemorated the victims with a minute’s silence. Many consider the disarmament campaign he has announced to be ineffective.

“I would say that is impossible”

According to government figures, there are around 760,000 registered weapons in Serbia alone. Estimates of the number of illegal weapons range from 300,000 to 1.5 million. There is now an amnesty for them. For a month, the police are advertising, citizens can hand in unregistered weapons without being punished.

In addition, around 400,000 gun license holders are to be subjected to strict controls in the near future. Their number should be pushed to 30,000 to 40,000. A completely unrealistic goal, believes Bojan Elek from the Belgrade think tank Center for Security Policy. It could be a really well thought out campaign that puts a lot of resources into it, he says. “But to just appear out of nowhere with those numbers – especially as Serbia has been trying to lower the numbers for the past 20 years with limited success – I’d say that’s impossible.”

An irrational relationship to one’s own weapon

For many Serbs, owning a gun is a matter of course. Traditionally, many people have had an irrational, clingy relationship with their guns. Aleksandar is a good example of this. The athletic man in his late 40s from Belgrade inherited a pistol from his father. It’s not registered. Aleksandar therefore wants to remain anonymous.

Under no circumstances will he give up his gun now, he says. “No, I don’t want that. First, for security. I want a gun in the house for security. And second, it’s a reminder of my father.”

“24/7 Violence on TV”

Two or three times a year, Aleksandar practices at the shooting range with a rented gun, he says. He is a good marksman – and keeps the pistol well hidden. The guns aren’t the problem for him anyway. Violence can be seen on television around the clock. He finds the social atmosphere in Serbia aggressive.

Aleksandar is not alone with this opinion. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Belgrade and other Serbian cities earlier this week under the slogan “Serbia against violence”. The demands of the demonstrators: A ban on pro-government tabloid media and the dismissal of the Oversight Committee for Electronic Media. The committee does nothing against the ubiquitous glorification of violence in the media. There are several reality television shows whose stars are convicted felons.

In Belgrade and Novi Sad, the victims of two gun attacks were commemorated – and at the same time demonstrated against President Vucic.

Disarmament a placebo measure?

But violence is also omnipresent in other areas of life, says analyst Bojan Elek – including in politics. In the Serbian parliament, “enemies of the state are constantly being named and insulted and accused.” There is violence against civil society organizations. Anyone who is critical of the government is portrayed as an enemy – including the free media. “There are all kinds of violence: political, media violence, physical, verbal, digital – you name it, we have it in Serbia.”

Elek sees the announced disarmament as a placebo measure. President Vucic is pretending to be in control. In his opinion, the money would be better invested in education and social services – budget items that have been cut in favor of the military and police in recent years.

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