Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

We have no words to deal with such situations. Comparing a mass shooting in an elementary school in the very center of Belgrade with mass shootings in schools and in public places all over the United States, where this has long been – there is no better way to say it, tragic as the fact is – a regular occurrence, doesn’t make much sense to me. In the United States, some seek a solution in banning the free sale of firearms and setting conditions for who can buy a pistol or an automatic rifle. There is also some vague speculation about the profile of a potential mass shooter, but no one seems to know what to do with that information.

This is the first time that our country has experienced this kind of mass shooting – in a school, no less, with a fourteen-year-old shooter. A child. Foreign media immediately drew connections with the wars waged here in the 1990s. Except they didn’t say that those wars basically abolished all respect for other people’s lives and all consideration for arbitrarily chosen others. They focused instead on the fact that those wars left many weapons scattered all over Serbia. In doing so, they tried to draw analogies with the United States. My impression, however, is that our disrespect for other people’s lives is more important here than the leftover weapons.

But I can’t know for sure. We can’t know anything for sure right now. Because it’s the first time this has happened. Analogies don’t work. If we connect this event with the wars of the nineties in any way, the question remains – why haven’t similar things already happened in other post-Yugoslav states? And, more importantly, why now, a couple of decades later?

The timing of this event naturally leads us to question its connection to the now decade-long rule of the neo-Radicals. That government, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is based on hatred and fear. It uses force as an argument in every disagreement and turns every disagreement into a conflict in order to justify the use of force. And they so readily reach for force because they are the strongest actor in our society.

All this provokes violence from the top, down the hierarchy of social relations. But even though we know all this, it cannot be argued that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a violently lopsided government and a mass shooting in a school. The killer is fourteen years old, there had to be numerous mechanisms for mediating and mitigating the influence of the wider environment on his maturation. Were they in place?

Again, we don’t know the answer to that question. That’s why it would be best to just take a deep breath, cry over the murdered children, help their families as much as we can and as best we know, and then reasonably try to understand what actually happened. We must know this: such events are terrible because of the specific victims, but also because each of us can easily imagine ourselves in their place.

It is possible that this was an isolated incident, unrelated to any given sociopolitical context. Quite simply, a combination of unfortunate circumstances which led to a tragic event. If so, then the matter ends with the questioning of the boy who committed the murders, his family, his immediate environment. If the causes are hidden there, we should try to help each of the actors as much as possible.

But it is possible that this is a kind of tragic foreshadowing of what awaits us going forward, and this is what scares me the most. If this is true, it is not enough to investigate only the immediate context. If there are systemic deficiencies and failures, it is important to identify them as soon as possible. The immediate context, the environment of the boy-murderer, is difficult to take as a model for building any kind of meaningful prevention policy.

School is expected to use various means to help mitigate, if not outright eliminate, the harmful or dangerous consequences of any kind of bad milieu a child may grow up in. Many, maybe even all, children would benefit from this. What we now know for sure is that our schools don’t serve this purpose. Whatever the investigation of the mass murder at the school in Vracar shows, it is certain that our schools must be better.

That is why it was important to see how the ministry of education would handle this. As expected, the ministry distanced itself from everything, and directed the parents (guardians) and students towards the police and hospitals instead. Could it have been otherwise? Of course it could have. They could have said, we will do everything to determine the causes of this mass murder. We are aware that our schools should be better. It may turn out that there was nothing we could have done to stop this mass murder, that things were completely out of our control. But, until we know that, we will do everything in our power to improve the situation in schools and enable them to at least mitigate the consequences of children’s immediate environments.

The ministry of education simply does not have the capacity to address the public like this. Our authorities always run away from any responsibility, and this includes the ministry of education. For them, schools are in an unfortunate gap between the students’ families on the one hand and the wider society on the other. Instead of standing above that gap and considering what they can do to influence both sides, schools want to bury their heads as deep as possible into that gap and pretend they have nothing to do with anything. Maybe in this particular case they don’t, but if they continue to behave like this, this case will not remain a tragic, one-off incident. On the contrary, we may one day look back on it as an alarm bell that we refused to hear.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 05.05.2023.

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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), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola. Novi prilozi za drugačiji kurikulum: SF, horror, fantastika“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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