No Life in Serbia

by jasminatesanovic

He woke at five in the morning with a gun in his hand. There is no life for us anymore, he said.

Then this man, sixty years old, an exemplary father and husband, “a hard and diligent worker, a citizen”, shot his son. He shot his sleepy and dumbfounded wife, who had scarcely understood his last declaration.

He continued his armed assault by opening the doors of the neighboring homes of his close relations. He shot them in their heads as they slept. All in all, he shot thirteen victims, including a child of two.

He was stopped by the local police. At that point he shot himself in his head.

Strangely enough he survived that gunshot, and so did his severely injured wife. All the others were killed.

This episode happened in a unremarkable village in Serbia, close to Belgrade. Incidents of this horrific kind have no precedent in Serbian history. Serbia has never been a country with random mass killers. Serbia is a land of war on other people. Whenever people kill and die in Serbia, they have centuries of trouble to justify the mayhem. They kill their neighbors for long-established religious or ethnic differences.

A gun-crazed mass murderer is a new phenomenon in Serbia. The assailant had no criminal record. He had no known psychiatric troubles. Everybody remembers him as a kindly, hardworking citizen. He tended his own land, until he was drafted in the nineties and sent into the war zone.

He survived the time of war, came back home and resumed his normal life. He kept a steady job until he lost it recently. Then had to resume his farming to get by. Serbia has fertile soil. He wasn’t starving.

The photo of his face is nothing special. He could be any man of the countryside. Yet he committed a mass crime out of the blue. That, I have seen.

Some years ago I followed a trial of the Scorpion paramilitary group ( These Serbian warriors fought their dirty war in the nineties. They came from the very town where this veteran was drafted. When I saw the faces of the Scorpions in their war-crimes court, they looked as banal as so many postmen. Yet they were monsters, delivering death to the neighborhood.

Such is the nature of any civil war. You kill your neighbors. You kill the people you live with. You shoot the people who speak your language, the people who share your culture… Despairing of tomorrow, you shoot them in the name of ideas, for ethnic or religious differences, or just for the sake of plain loot. If you survive long enough during a civil war, it’s never about the first mania, and always about the loot.

In the Serbian press the notion of a “post-traumatic syndrome” was swiftly dismissed. Maybe it’s only natural, beneath comment, that six out of every seven murders committed in modern Serbia are carried out by ex-warriors who have immediate hands-on experience with weapons of war. It’s certainly not unusual to know front-line combat veterans who have killed themselves with guns: I knew one personally.

I learned things from the Scorpions cross-examined in that court. One said memorably: When you are out there, you are not normal. Normality ceases to exist. You do stuff which no sane person here would understand. That’s the nature of warfare.

Then the witness faced the mother of a dead underage civilian, and he told her:

Mother, I must tell you that your son was killed for no good reason — except for being a Muslim. He did nothing wrong to deserve it, I am sorry.

It is the long aftermath that releases these buried feelings. This helped me to understand the dynamic of these crimes. The paranoia about a constructed enemy is genuine and authentic. When a human being loses his humanity, there comes the lethal point of no return.

Serbia has declared a day of national mourning about this slaughter. The press raves: how could it happen? Survivors, police, and the media do not confront painful issues about the killer’s military service. Men who kill in wartime are patriots. Men who pull the same trigger in peacetime are criminals. There can be no human commonality there.
But Serbia today is ruled by the same parties which waged those wars in the nineties and as the “decent man who suddenly committed a mass murder of his kin” succumbed to the wounds, dirty laundry is coming out. The man actually beat his wife with a dog’s chain, threatened his son for not marrying and stalked a girl whom he blamed for his son’s conduct. Nobody however intervened, that was considered ” new normal”.

In Serbia today, there is no limit to the expanding circle of those who might be traumatized or criminalized. The wretch involved might be the individual, the family, the neighborhood, the political party, the state, or the whole region. In this season of 2013, it’s the current disagreement with Europe over Kosovo, with the UN over the International war Tribunal in the Hague. But Europe itself is in grave disarray, and every passing year brings another pretext. And the world as it is has it’ s own problems to bother with wild Serbs going again astray. As long as they stay in their own pen.

“No life for us anymore” — such were the last words of this Serbian killer of his own kinfolk. His wife miraculously survived his gunshot, and after coming out of her coma, she asked: did my son make it to work? Nobody had the courage to tell her that her son would never see another dawn.

via No Life in Serbia.

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