After numerous bomb threats at several hundred locations in Belgrade, most of which are schools, the media reported their findings from the top of the Prosecutor’s office that these threats will “most probably be characterized as criminal acts of terrorism”. The fact that the Prosecutor’s office was so quick to announce this, even informally, points to the possible unfolding and conclusions of this case.
The claim that this is terrorism, or at least some form of terrorism as proscribed by our criminal code, is pretty easy to agree with. There is a series of acts which are defined as terrorism – attacks, kidnapping or taking hostages, destruction of public or infrastructure objects, kidnapping public transportation vehicles, use of weapons, dangerous material, obstruction of power and water supplies1 – which are aimed at serious intimidation of the population, or at forcing Serbia, a foreign country, or an international organization to do or not do something.2 In order for criminal liability to exist, it is not necessary for the act of terrorism to actually happen; threats of these acts are also punishable, as well as different forms of preparation for these acts.
Let’s say that these two elements are indisputable in the situation we are facing: a) this is a threat of terrorism and b) it refers to attacks against life and body, destruction of public and infrastructural objects, use of weapon and obstruction of power and water supplies.
These elements are clear from the letter that was published in the media, as well as the list of institutions and buildings which were threatened. It is as if the attackers quoted the criminal code – they threatened each act of terrorism, one by one, from point 1 to point 7 of article 391, paragraph 1 of the criminal code. What is still unclear at this point is the intent behind the threat. As I mentioned, without intent, there is no terrorism.
The citizens were right to be scared on Monday. At the same time, instinctively, they wondered about the attackers’ intentions. Who and why would attack children and public buildings? Just one day later, we got a perfect answer, Brnabic-style.
The prime minister gave a precise legal diagnosis as to why and where these threats against Serbia are coming from. She said that these bomb threats are pressures from abroad because we didn’t impose sanctions against Russia. It is unclear, however, how she came to this conclusion. Such conclusions are the job of the prosecutor and the courts.
Let’s assume, for a millionth time, that Brnabic doesn’t know that with these statements she is meddling in other people’s jobs and doing something that is forbidden. Let’s assume that, as a citizen and a prime minister in a technical mandate, she is trying to understand what is happening. Which facts and sources told our prime minister that these threats are coming from abroad and that their intent is to pressure Serbia (meaning the Serbian government) to impose sanctions against Russia?
It certainly didn’t come from the letters addressed to schools and other institutions, which, according to experts, are serious, of a highly destructive content, and point to a sense of derealisation and depersonalization on the side of the author. These letters clearly show that this is a matter of serious intimidation of the population, as one of the possible terrorist intents. I can’t see the intent the prime minister is referring to – to force Serbia to do something (impose sanctions against Russia). Those letters don’t even mention Serbia.
(Perhaps somebody managed to understand this gap between the content of hundreds of letters and the prime minister’s interpretation and sent out an additional letter to one tabloid yesterday, which said that the attackers “won’t stand idly by while Russia is slaughtering the people and destroying the country”).
The prime minister’s clumsy explanation and her hasty conclusion make me wonder if the events from Monday were cooked up in a domestic kitchen. The fact that the letters point to one intent and that Brnabic is saying something different is not the only problem. When we test the prime minister’s thesis, a number of other questions pop up – for example, does abroad (if we understand this to mean the official governments of other countries and international institutions) also have other mechanisms, apart from scaring students and the rest of the population, to pressure Serbia to impose sanctions? They most certainly do. Some mechanisms may be subtle, like denial of international or diplomatic cooperation. Other may be more evident, including imposing sanctions against Serbia, if they feel this is called for.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for those abroad to target decision makers with their threats, if they wanted to force Serbia to impose sanctions against Russia? Why would they intimidate students and regular people who have zero say anyway (including at the elections)?
Ana Brnabic’s theory makes no sense if we consider that the international community is the pillar and guarantee of the fight against terrorism in many domestic documents for combating terrorism. More or less everything that was done in Serbia regarding protection from terrorism was done because of the pressure from abroad, primarily from the European Union. It is difficult to imagine that high-ranking international actors – like foreign countries and international organizations – would threaten to bomb the Belgrade tropicarium. (Incidentally, the prime minister said that she is certain that the threats are coming from abroad because of the fact that the Belgrade tropicarium was threatened and the majority of the citizens of Serbia don’t even know it exists. This is a sort of tragicomic footnote to this terrorist story.)
This analysis could be reduced to the question: is it more likely that the international community is organizing terrorist attacks in Serbia in order to force it to impose sanctions against Russia, or is it more likely that Serbia is faking these threats for its own daily political needs? I will leave it to the readers to answer this question based on their life and political experience so far.
Keeping in mind everything said so far, I think that we have ample reason to suspect that we are witnessing our own government using their well-known way of communication to try to scare their own citizens and justify unpopular sanctions against Russia. In the words of a blood-thirsty and lost man (“they will kill you with cars, bombs, knives and anything you can get your hands on”3) the government is, at the same time, playing its favorite sport – spreading xenophobia. The “abroad” from Ana Brnabic’s statement is terrorizing our children and threatening our security.
Perhaps the most important indication that this whole thing was cooked up in the government is the quick utilization of the fear it created. Brnabic did just that – she used that fear as an instrument for the goals of her own political nomenclature. The government must impose sanctions against Russia, but, at the same time, preserve the feeling that it was forced to do so – for example under the threat of an international terrorist attack.
The events we are witnessing clearly point to a return to the legal and theoretical basis of terror and rule of fear. This was not invented by SNS, although they may wish it were. In his 1985 book “Rule of terror – an experiment on human rights and state terror”, Vojin Dimitrijevic said something that still resonates today:
“The point of the rule of terror is to use violence against a victim to produce fear in the general population, in order to disable them to act against not only the government and its rule, but also all its future orders. This makes fear the focal point of terror, just like the name suggests. However, fear is more than that, because the terror dynamic turns it from a means into an end. Besides and before that, it is the cause.”
This definition potentially contains everything that is currently happening to us. A rampant government without a single fully mandated institution may be scaring the population in order to secure support not only for its actions, but also for anything they may do in the future. Fear has become everything – the method, goal, and cause of terror. Because our government fears everything coming from abroad, east or west.
In that sense, the prosecutor’s office hit the nail on the head when they named this terrorism. The citizens of Serbia have been victims of state terrorism for a long time. This is exactly why the prosecutor’s office, which has been happily married to all elements of executive power, let this appropriate characterization slip.
It is difficult to imagine the prosecutor’s office going after powerful international terrorists. They are more suited to their well-rehearsed role of an accomplice in state terror. They will once again confirm this role if they let political power interpret the events that happened last Monday, especially if these events are then used to justify sanctions against Russia.
Translated by Marijana Simic
- Only the most important groups of acts of terrorism are mentioned here. Detailed explanation can be found in article 391 of the Criminal code.
- Intent also includes serious endangerment or violation of basic constitutional, political, economic or social structures of Serbia, a foreign country, or an international organization. For the sake of this article, this will be limited to intimidation of population and forcing Serbia to do or not do something as the most probable motive for these events.
- The structure of this sentence, if its authentic, is interesting. The attacker is saying that somebody else, not him, will do the killing (they will kill you, not we will kill you) and using anything that we (the victims) and not the attacker, can get our hands on.