During the past two weeks, two of my friends were beaten in the streets of Belgrade „out of the blue“. Three attackers kicked one of them in the head in the middle of Terazije because they didn’t like his clothes. They probably assumed he was gay and jumped to punish him for merely existing. A group of attackers jumped my other friend from behind, knocked him to the ground and kicked him all over his body, while he was walking home down McKenzie Street alone at night. “We will kill you if you don’t get lost immediately, faggot”, they shouted while he was trying to get up and go home. How did they know whether these people were gay or not? Even if they were, is that a reason to threaten them with death and beat them up? These are merely two most recent examples from my immediate surroundings. And there are hundreds, thousands of others, many even worse. We don’t know anything about them and we’ll never find out, because they won’t appear in the newspapers, on television, on the radio, in the tabloids. They are invisible.
How does it make you feel to know that some excuses for human beings walk this city freely, attacking people from behind if they don’t like the way they look? How does it make you feel to know that you have a target on your back and that it’s only a matter of mere coincidence whether and when someone will attack you? How does it make you feel to know that not even the city center, full of people, in the middle of the afternoon can protect you from violence? How does it make you feel to know that not even your usual walk home is safe?
I’m afraid. I’m afraid that someone won’t like my jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, hair style, facial expression. I’m afraid that, because of it, I’ll be attacked, beaten, raped, murdered. My fear is not irrational. My fear is supported by hundreds of similar cases of aggression in Serbia where perpetrators were never punished for the severe attacks they committed. “Violence is definitely a touch of the lowest order”. It is. Even lower than that.
I know that it is a trend in Serbia to blame the victims for being victims. If a woman is raped, the issue becomes her clothes, the fact that she was alone outside at night or that she was drinking. When it comes to a non-heterosexual or transgender person, the same issue arises – why was he alone in the street at night or why was he dressed “provocatively”?
I’m afraid, because I feel exposed in a city which is supposed to have a free spirit, which takes pride in its hospitality and variety. I’m afraid, because I feel like a potential victim in a society in which “There is no greater joy and more important value than the fight for modern Serbia”. I’m afraid, because thousands of silent observes nurture and justify the culture of violence by their passivity and inaction. I’m afraid, because I see my own state releasing the wild beasts to “normalize” those they find inadequate and not normal with their fists. Is that the “modern Serbia”? Apparently, it is.
We should forget about pride and accept and welcome shame and embarrassment. Because it’s the only thing which belongs to us. We live lives filled with fear, silent and invisible terror. We are not safe on the streets which were once a happy place for us.
I’ve stopped wondering why. I don’t seek logical explanation anymore. Nor solace. I don’t ask for solidarity, fight for human rights, respect of differences. It’s pointless. Because, everyone will always do as they wish and as the state allows.
I just want to say that I’m afraid.
Translated by Marijana Simic