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Don’t light the candles

The beating of a 28-year-old German man – who came to Belgrade to support the local gay community in their fight for basic civil rights – in the center of Belgrade, in the night between the 12th and 13th of September, was expected and, therefore, can’t be an incident, as the minister of police would like us to believe, unless we start calling the events that occur in accordance with the norms of behavior – incidents, which would, then, mean that we live in a society which is a one big incident itself. Nothing that happened that night was incidental, as per the standard meaning of the word incident: “an event that disturbs the usual order”. It is about a set of rules, established during the previous years or even decades, which this time fell upon the unfortunate German.

First of all, it has become common for the groups of violent jackasses to choose a lone victim and beat them up, sometimes even to the death. During the last year, it happened several times in Nis, Novi Sad (where primary school students beat up a teacher, shouting “you’re a faggot”), Kragujevac and Belgrade. The Belgrade case is maybe the most representative, in some perverse way, because it is a murder committed by the members of a company which is supposed to maintain order. Violence is a legitimate means of communication in Serbia, on all levels and in all circumstances, and especially in supposed conflicts between the strong and the weak. The conflict, of course, is only an excuse for mere sadistic torture.

Second of all, it is perfectly acceptable here to beat up a faggot, stab a lesbian, kick the living daylights out of a transvestite. Five years ago, also in September, a couple of days before the Pride Parade which was announced but never materialized, a 28-year-old Frenchman was beaten to death. He was thrown from the top of the stairs into the Kosmaj passage at Obilicev venac, again in the center of Belgrade. After the story that it was a fight among football hooligans, a more credible version appeared – that it was the hooligans who thought that those strangers came to Belgrade to support the Pride Parade. According to that story, it would have been an acceptable defense of honor and identity against the perverted influence of the decadent West.

Third, in reactions to the violence against “legitimate” targets, the biggest victim turns out to be the local community whose reputation “hooligans” irreparably damage. Thus, the minister of police, once again said that “the fact that a German citizen was beaten causes considerable damage to our country’s reputation.” We heard the same thing five years ago: traditional Serbian hospitality was tainted. The point is that that desired, but non-existent reputation is completely groundless, simply because these are not incidents, but expected events. There is a direct connection between the murder of the Frenchman and the beating of the German man and “family walks”, threats and torture of organizers and potential participants of the Pride Parade. That connection is reinforced by the state, which retreats before the threats, and citizens, who demonstrate that it is none of their business, until it starts to endanger their imaginary reputation.

Fourth, even when the state acts according to the law and arrests and punishes offenders, the “cultural” mechanisms for their defense are immediately set in motion. Murderers are presented as victims, almost like “Innocence Unprotected”. An example of this is the despicable “documentary” which portrays the perpetrators of the murder of five years ago as helpless victims of an international conspiracy against which the stumbling government was powerless. And then that same government protects the author of that pointless movie by fiercely punishing his critics. Today, however, the minister of police plays a similar dual role of both judge and defender by stating that “all foreigners and people who bring good will, positive energy and money” are welcome in Belgrade. In other words, if you do not have money, do not come to Belgrade, especially if instead of money you bring some strange ideas about human rights, because then it is not a sign of goodwill.

And fifth, we in Serbia today have inherited a rich tradition of instruments for marking “legitimate” targets for hatred and bestiality. With these instruments, we have the mechanisms to protect bullies who dutifully fulfill the implicit collective orders. This is not about a promised amnesty or guaranteed martyrdom if the perpetrator is brought to justice. It is about the regular acknowledgment of anybody who manages to impose himself as the strongest and most effective abuser of the hated “other”. In a series of “legitimate” targets, our ethnic neighbors were replaced in the last decade by distant foreigners and local gays and lesbians. Rather than give up on such a savage practice, we prefer to light candles after the tragic crime exonerating ourselves for moral atrophy, because we don’t light those candles for the victims, but for the desirable image of ourselves which is irretrievably disappearing.

Most of us here still hope that the target will not be on our chest or back. As long as other people’s lives are at stake, we are safe, as the majority wrongly speculates. But, the candles give away that majority. I.e. the need to burn candles when shame and embarrassment for our own cowardice become unbearable. The idea that others, and not us, will be the victims because they are clearly marked and, thus, different from us, is proven wrong every day. Violence will always exist, but only when everyone, without distinction, is exposed to it, can we expect to establish valid mechanisms for prevention and protection from violence. Of course, some foreigner, a gay, a lesbian or an ordinary local little man without qualities will occasionally be beaten, but we will no longer have to burn candles, because the state will do its job properly.

And so, fellow citizens, either we all walk on the 28th in one big Parade of citizens’ pride, or we stay home and prepare the candles.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Peščanik.net, 16.09.2014.


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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016) i „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016).

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