The racism of our citizens – who first blocked the way for a bus full of asylum seekers and then burned the houses where they were supposed to be housed – is nothing new.
After all, Sonja Biserko is again subjected to media pillory, this time because of her announced testimony at the International Court of Justice in Croatia’s genocide case against Serbia. The Roma people who live in a ghetto in Zemun Polje in fear of their neighbors are also not news anymore. As for the news that 41 women were murdered in Serbia in first ten months of 2013, that just bored us. Tomasica, the largest mass grave in Europe, which hides an unimaginably large number of civilian victims murdered and buried in the name of Serbia, did not merit the status of a top news article.
The Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, these days promised the Bitici family that he will do everything he can to investigate the murders of their three brothers. The same man, commenting on the recent ugly incidents that occurred after the country tried to host the asylum seekers, declared that Serbia “is not racist country”. Aleksandar Vucic, the Deputy Prime Minister, is a busy man. He doesn’t even notice anything regarding racism, although he was the spokesperson of that same racism for years. Today, he deals only with positive matters.
Those semi-mythological personalities, the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Nevena Petrusic, and the State Ombudsman, Sasa Jankovic, tiredly appear from time to time, but have no influence on anything or anyone, nor do they want to bother people. Opposition political parties, if such things exist, are busy practicing only how to blend into the background, and race to praise Vucic, just to survive. Civic society, whatever that may be, is limited to the Internet and to sending fewer and fewer press releases – alibis for lack of action.
The case with the asylum seekers is just the last in a long line of consequences of the war-driven politics of the Nineties, ethnic cleansings and genocide. We never recognized, admitted or faced up to this initial evil that we supported and that has spawned so many other smaller or larger evils. That’s why there is no room for surprise over the fact that we are getting worse and worse, and are again burning down houses designed to house those who are more vulnerable than us – whom we don’t even allow to get food.
Many of us wonder when exactly did we become such a people? When did we lose track of the civilization we should belong to? When did we surrender?
There are many dates that can be marked as “that time”, so let’s just name the most obvious: December 9 and 23, 1990.
Slobodan Milosevic was elected President of Serbia on December 9. The turnout was almost 72 per cent, while 65 per cent or about 3.3 million citizens of Serbia voted for him. On December 23, his Socialist Party of Serbia won 77.6 per cent of the seats in parliament.
November 18, 1991, Serbs conquer Vukovar in Croatia. April 5, 1992, beginning of the siege of Sarajevo. July 11, 1995, culmination of the Srebrenica genocide. October, 1998, start of the campaign of ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo. March 12, 2003, assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Today’s racist incidents against asylum seekers are just a continuation of our old racism against Bosniaks, Albanians and Croats.
How we treat each minority that is weaker than us is just an indication of our deep dissatisfaction with the military defeats we suffered in the Nineties. Our sick pride is based on what we’ve managed to hide – the victims that still haven’t been counted, scattered in mass graves in both the region and Serbia. We are convinced that the world hates us, that we are the victims of unfair trials in The Hague and are eternally the victims of others.
At the same time, we do not dare examine our own palms, the hands that helped us vote and kill, and ask why the outside world might despise us.
Our frustration, pumped up with the misery in which we live, has no room to wreak vengeance, so, in the absence of old victims, we find new ones – Roma, LGBT persons, asylum seekers, women and children.
The war has come home, the same war for an ethnically pure Greater Serbia that was led on our behalf by same people that are in power today. A revolt against this hatred, whose current target is asylum seekers, is absent because we do not remember, or recognize, the evil we have already done. Because we still have not faced up to the old crimes we constantly accumulate new ones.
Fighting for the rights of victims and standing by their side, no matter how distasteful it may appear to be, is the only way to fight this evil. But shamefully few people in public side with the victims. Our true defeat is the fact that the number of these people is, in fact, negligible. Confronting the evil that we have supported, which is still on the loose in our daily lives, is the first step towards the change that our society should make.
Unfortunately, those who might have a decisive influence in encouraging these changes – the political elite – are ranged on the opposite side. They are legitimate representatives of the worst that is in us.
People on social media in Serbia these days have been sharing the lines of the poem by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. His famous lines warned that the Nazis would eventually come for those who silently stood by while they picked on others. But our interpretation of this poem is bland, as if again we are performing from the position of the victims that we self-imagine ourselves to be.
What we do not realize is the terrifying twist: the Nazis coming and taking the innocents – is us.
Balkan Insight, 29.11.2013.