In May 2023, two mass shootings rocked Serbia for the first time in seven years. The two massacres totaled 18 deaths. As a result, the nation has responded with a wave of protests calling for the government to pursue action against the “culture of violence” spawned in the age of social media and television that cheer on violence. The movement has been termed “Serbia Against Violence.”
Two Mass Shootings
On May 3, a 13-year-old boy took his parent’s two legally registered pistols from their home and shot and killed 10 people at his elementary school in Belgrade. Less than 24 hours later, a 20-year-old man killed eight people and injured another 14 in a random shooting spree across three Serbian villages with one illegal automatic rifle.
Mass shootings in Serbia are very rare occurrences, as the country holds some of the tightest restrictions on gun control in Europe. Serbia has banned all automatic rifles and most semi-automatic weapons. However, according to the Small Arms 2018 Survey, there are still 2.7 million firearms in the hands of Serbian civilians. This is largely due to guns left over from Serbia’s involvement in the Yugoslav Wars throughout the 1990s.
“Serbia Against Violence” — The Movement
Following the back-to-back shootings in May, the grassroots movement “Serbia Against Violence” has risen to address the failures of President Aleksander Vucic and his government’s control of violence. Civilians have gathered, calling for Vucic to leave office and the resignation of the interior minister and the head of intelligence services. Beyond the removal of government officials, Serbians are calling for the government to revoke the broadcasting licenses of several television channels that currently promote violent content to their viewers.
Many Serbians blame the wave of violence on social media and television as perpetrators and normalizers of brutality. The movement began as a way to address this “culture of violence” and to honor and commemorate the victims from early May but very quickly morphed into a system of critiquing Vucic’s government. The “Serbia Against Violence” movement is bigger than anything the country has seen in years. On June 3, the one-month anniversary of the first shooting, the movement’s fifth protest, led by a group of college students, brought out the most support yet — tens of thousands of people.
The Government’s Response
Vucic denied responsibility for the shooting and refused to step down. He did, however, declare he would work to tighten the nation’s gun laws and seek “almost complete disarmament.” On May 5, Vucic implemented a one-month amnesty program allowing any unregistered gun owners to turn in their firearms without repercussions. In the first week, 13,500 weapons were overturned, and after the first month, that number rose to 50,000. Yet this remains strikingly low, as this is less than 2% of the total number of estimated firearms in civilian hands. Furthermore, Vucic chose to plan his own, pro-government rally to combat the critiques and opposition he has received.
What is Next?
Serbia’s future remains unclear. While President Vucic has stepped down from the head role of his political party, the Serbian Progressive Party, many widely suspected this move prior to the May shootings. While there has been some progress, many onlookers still worry if Serbian civilians will be able to uphold the momentum of recent months for the “Serbia Against Violence” movement. As things stand, it appears only time will tell.
– Sayda Bir