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Is a disarmed Serbia a safer Serbia?

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

Keith Mulopo

Recently, the Serbian president Aleksander Vucic announced a “general disarmament” of the

nation, entailing a month-long amnesty for illegally held weapons, a moratorium on new weapon

permits, and a review of current gun licences. This is a response to the tragic mass shootings in

early May: one occurring at a school in Belgrade with the perpetrator being a 13 year old

boy, with nine people killed; the other, more south of the capital at Mladenovac, with the

shooter being a young man, with eight killed and 14 injured.

These shootings have sparked national conversations about gun control and the gun culture in

Serbia, as well as igniting the blame game for the incidents. Protests have taken place under

the slogan “Serbia against violence” because residents suspect the nation is developing a

culture of violence. Despite the amnesty being received well by both protestors and authorities

according to Bojan Elek (deputy director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy), the natives

are still restless because they believe that these shootings have been fomented by the physical

and rhetorical violence in the public domain, TV shows, and political communication under the

reign of the Serbian Progressive Party.

Education minister Branko Ruzic identifies Western values as the underlying cause of the

shooting, contradicting Serbian ambitions to join the E.U, whilst president Vucic claims that

these tragedies are being used by opposition parties to undermine his legitimacy. Needless to

say, dividing lines are being drawn.

Before I touch on the gun control aspect of the issue, I have to say that the way these acts of

brutality have been leveraged by political actors in their bid to score points against the

opposition is disappointing. This is an example of how hideous politics can be, since the victims’

bodies haven’t even cooled yet politicians are using the heinous events as an attack vector,

undermining the humanity and innocence lost in the public consciousness. Politics can be a

bloody business indeed.

Regarding the measures and initiatives Vucic has introduced in response to the shootings, I

think they are sensible by and large. Yes, it makes total sense that only licensed individuals

should carry guns because they would be the most responsible, and, in Serbia, gun owners

have to go through extensive background checks including medical exams and character

testimonies from one’s neighbours and relatives. Thus, licensed gun owners would be very

aware of the dangers of carrying a firearm.

However, I do not think Serbia’s gun culture is as concerning as it may appear. Although 39/100

Serbian civilians own guns privately (ranked third in the world), mass shootings are fairly rare,

the last one being in 2013. Plus, the gun culture arose from the history of war and violence, with

many Serbians owning guns for self-protection, according to the Flemish Peace Institute.

Thus, for the Serbian government to propose the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 14

to 12, to deploy 1200 new police officers in schools across the country, and to allow for police

to search homes without court orders seems more performative rather than a true attempt to

solve the inherent problem.

To me, the measures could backfire because having police forces patrol schools and granted

the ability to search homes without permission could sow distrust and anxiety and more division

among the population, which isn’t proportional to the cause of the measures. Children would be

constantly reminded that they’re not safe where they spend most of their days, and

homeowners can’t trust that their privacy will be respected. The sense of security that allows for

a society to function smoothly is threatened.

If anything, I think what’s worth considering is Serbia’s relationship with their violent past and

the condition of the parenting of the younger generation. Dobrica Veselinovic from Green-left

party suggested that the nation should invest in more psychologists and have an honest talk

among themselves about their violent history. I agree and more: I think the condition of

parenting should be discussed too.

What struck me about the two incidents is how young the perpetrators are: 13 and 20-21

respectively. Perhaps the violence depicted on TV may have had an influence on these boys’

decision to resort to such heinous crimes, but to commit extreme violence reveals a level of

psychological dysfunction that can only be thoroughly investigated if there’s disclosure on how

they were being raised at home. Although the parents of the boy who did the Belgrade school

shooting have also been arrested, I do think that how the youth are being raised is worth


Of course, it’s too early to suggest a trend is developing regarding the profile of the mass

shooters in Serbia, but I do think the civic approach to ameliorating the propitious gun violence

in Serbia is missing the mark. Illegal gun ownership can’t account for the causes for young, very

young, men deciding to shoot civilians. This signals a much deeper problem, more

psychological, more human problem than the measures to curb it suggest. But for that to be

considered, gun control would have to become a more human issue than a political issue.

Image: Agence France-Presse (AFP/Oliver Bunic)

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