Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube LinkedIn

Editorials

A “graffiti war” in Belgrade over a convicted war criminal

A “graffiti war” in Belgrade over a convicted war criminal
©EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC  |   A police officer walks past a mural depicting former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic in Belgrade, Serbia, 09 November 2021.

Over the past few weeks, Belgrade's municipality of Vracar has become an area of conflict between those groups who protect graffiti dedicated to convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic and those who want the graffiti removed. Decades after the guns fell silent in Bosnia, a different type of war is being waged in Belgrade between those who insist on facing the past so that Serbia can move forward and those still trapped in the wartime nationalist narratives of the 1990s.

The “graffiti war”

The graffiti in Vracar withstood attempts to remove it from the façade of the building or at least to hide it from view or damage it. It was pelted with eggs and overpainted, to no avail. During one attempt of two activists to throw eggs at this graffiti, the police arrested them while hooligan groups nearby were left alone. On another occasion, when human rights NGOs wanted to paint over the graffiti on International Anti-Fascism Day, they were stopped by the police. Basically, the state stood up to protect those who drew the graffiti, and thus the crimes committed by Mladic's army were – and still are – denied from the highest state level, in spite of the fact that the man has been convicted of genocide in Srebrenica, persecution, crimes against humanity, extermination and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.

This graffiti is coated with a special varnish, which according to unofficial information was imported from abroad especially for these needs so that no paint could destroy Ratko Mladic's graffiti. When the graffiti is streaked, the unknown guys in the hoods manage to return it to its original state after a few hours. A thick layer of colourless varnish that "protects" the graffiti allows them to clean the thrown paint. According to some citizens living in the neighbourhood, the hooligans rented an apartment overlooking the graffiti so they could monitor for 24 hours if anyone was trying to destroy it. This information indicates that such an action could not be organized on its own initiative by a group of hooligans who have been under strong state control in recent years. Allegedly, behind this action are government representatives with a clear intention to polarize the public on this topic.

In the four months during which the mural was on the facade of the building, no city institution removed it. However, the inspection ordered that the graffiti must be removed by the citizens living in the building, who did not draw it or ask for it to be drawn on their building. Due to the layer with which it is protected, a specialized facade cleaning company is needed to remove the mural. However, all the contacted companies, according to the tenants, refused to remove the mural. In this way, the authorities in Serbia have shifted the entire responsibility to the citizens of the building, who are victims of the entire play, which was directed by the authorities.

Electoral tactics: using hooligans to promote a war criminal

By refusing to remove the graffiti, the government is participating in the protection of Ratko Mladic and the dehumanization of people who were killed in the genocide in Srebrenica, but also in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Mladic's army. Serbian officials, led by President Aleksandar Vucic, do not admit that genocide took place in Srebrenica, despite court rulings, but use the term "terrible crime".

There are several reasons why the government is currently promoting this topic and trying to create polarization around it. The theme of war crimes and transitional justice continues to be a cancer wound for societies in the Western Balkans that were part of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In a few months, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in Serbia, which is always the reason why the authorities are strengthening their nationalist narratives in order to please their voters. The electorate of the ruling party is right-wing and pro-Russian, although this government is proclaimed to represent Serbia's European path. On the other hand, the ruling party also aims to trap the opposition and make them share their opinion about Mladic. If they do not oppose the mural, then their pro-European voters will be disappointed, if they do not opt for the mural then they will not be able to win over voters who are nationally oriented, so it’s a win-win situation for the government.

An additional reason for carrying out the action of drawing and protecting Ratko Mladic's mural is the intention of the authorities to give importance to hooligan groups. In recent years, Serbian authorities have brought almost all extreme fan and hooligan groups under their control. Thanks to this, the Pride Parade has been held in recent years without the incidents previously committed by those who are now under the control of the authorities. However, from time to time, the government deliberately allows hooligans to commit incidents to show the international public that only this government can maintain peace and stability. In this way, the hooligans themselves are given the importance they lost the moment they were brought under control. At any time, the government can use these hooligans for its dirty work or for the repression that can be expected as the elections approach

During several protests against the mural of Ratko Mladic, numerous citizens and representatives of the non-governmental sector gathered, while on the other side of the police cordon were members of extreme right-wing hooligan groups. They insulted the gathered citizens all the time and called for religious and national hatred. The police did not react, although there are legal sanctions for such slogans. The question also arises on how could those who drew the mural be sanctioned.

Holding on to a distorted, “patriotic”, vision of the past

The Serbian Criminal Code explicitly prohibits the denial of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when established by a judgment of a domestic court or the International Criminal Court (ICC).

However, this does not apply to the verdicts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which convicted Ratko Mladic. Because of this incredible omission, painting a mural of Ratko Mladic, a convicted war criminal, is unfortunately not in itself punishable. The question is whether the painting of Ratko Mladic's mural could be characterized as another crime that promotes incitement to hatred and intolerance.

In Serbia, there is also the Law on the Prohibition of Manifestations of Neo-Nazi or Fascist Organizations, which states in Article 4 that the production and use of symbols that propagate the actions of war crimes convicts is prohibited. Can gatherings in "Mladic's defense" and his pictures on the wall be punishable? This question remains unanswered until the competent institutions act in accordance with one of these laws.

The question also arises as to whether the Serbian national identity is in crisis today. Those who were born in the 1990s do not even remember the war. The most important thing for the ruling political elites is to imbibe new generations with their wartime identity. Those new generations probably don't even have a sense of war; because they don't even have a memory of it, they go their own way. That fact does not help nationalists because they are not sure whether the new generations are ready to fully accept the narrative that is being served to them. That is why they are constantly working on reproducing the myth of war. Anyone who tries to question the war, that is, to break some of the myths, is accused of being a traitor and a desecrator of national identity.

And as long as Serbia, as well as other countries of the former Yugoslavia, will not fully embrace the historical truth and acknowledges all the victims, the truth – and the past – will be abused for “patriotic purposes”. And abusing the past reflects on the present, and on the future.


Other articles
The gas crisis: Chisinau’s Pyrrhic victory in the negotiations with Gazprom

The gas crisis: Chisinau’s Pyrrhic victory in the negotiations with Gazprom

Announced with bells and whistles as a big thing achieved by the Republic of Moldova with regard to the gas supply from Russia, the new contract with Gazprom is not exactly a success, either economically or politically.

COP26: Globalization by necessity

COP26: Globalization by necessity

The summit on climate change, COP26, brings no breaking news: we already know that a critical point has been reached. However, just knowing it doesn't help. We need urgent measures and policies that can no longer be postponed if we want to give future generations a chance.

Sputnik and the protests in Romania

Sputnik and the protests in Romania

The anti-restriction protests triggered a real festival on Sputnik, the Kremlin's main Romanian-language propaganda tool.

Vuk Velebit

24 Nov 2021
Vuk Velebit

5 minutes read
  • A “graffiti war” in Belgrade over a convicted war criminal Over the past few weeks, Belgrade's municipality of Vracar has become an area of conflict between those groups who protect graffiti dedicated to convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic and those who want the graffiti removed.
  • The state stood up to protect those who drew the graffiti, and thus the crimes committed by Mladic's army were – and still are – denied from the highest state level, in spite of the fact that the man has been convicted of genocide in Srebrenica, persecution, crimes against humanity, extermination and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.
  • The theme of war crimes and transitional justice continues to be a cancer wound for societies in the Western Balkans that were part of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In a few months, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in Serbia, which is always the reason why the authorities are strengthening their nationalist narratives in order to please their voters. The electorate of the ruling party is right-wing and pro-Russian, although this government is proclaimed to represent Serbia's European path.
  • The question also arises as to whether the Serbian national identity is in crisis today. Those who were born in the 1990s do not even remember the war. The most important thing for the ruling political elites is to imbibe new generations with their wartime identity.
The gas bucket challenge: how the Russians and the oppositions have turned the energy crisis in the Republic of Moldova to their own benefit
The gas bucket challenge: how the Russians and the oppositions have turned the energy crisis in the Republic of Moldova to their own benefit

The social media in the Republic of Moldova has been flooded these days by a surging number of pictures of gas bills people uploaded once the energy price rises hit the market. The price hikes and the energy crisis are real, but Moscow and the Moldovan opposition are using them to undermine the pro-European government and its line of reforms.

Mădălin Necșuțu
Mădălin Necșuțu
17 Jan 2022
The crisis in Ukraine: why a war is not to Russia’s advantage
The crisis in Ukraine: why a war is not to Russia’s advantage

NATO's refusal to accept Russia's latest demands against the background of the crisis in Ukraine has heightened fears that Moscow is preparing for war. It is a possible scenario, but one that would be extremely costly for Russia, even if it wins the fighting on the ground.

Cătălin Gomboș
Cătălin Gomboș
16 Jan 2022
What could Moldovans learn about the “Eastern vector” from the crisis in Kazakhstan
What could Moldovans learn about the “Eastern vector” from the crisis in Kazakhstan

The crisis in Kazakhstan might persuade Moldovans, once and forever, that the model proposed by Russia in its sphere of influence is bound to fail, and that that they need to stop oscillating between the “Eastern” and Western vectors.

Mădălin Necșuțu
Mădălin Necșuțu
10 Jan 2022
The Djokovic Scandal: a tale of politicians, anti-vaxxers and Serb nationalists
The Djokovic Scandal: a tale of politicians, anti-vaxxers and Serb nationalists

The Djokovic scandal goes beyond sports or health policies. It is also an episode in Australia's internal political disputes and a pretext for self-victimization by anti-vaxxers and Serbian nationalists.

Vuk Velebit
Vuk Velebit
07 Jan 2022