For the second time in 48 hours, an act of violence that has left many dead has shaken Serbia. A man killed eight people with a rapid-fire rifle in a village near Belgrade on Thursday evening, the interior ministry said. 14 others sustained injuries. The police arrested the alleged perpetrator the next morning in the city of Kragujevac, 100 kilometers away.
At the time of the crime, Serbia was already in shock - because of another deadly act of violence that had happened shortly before. A 13-year-old student shot dead eight classmates and a security guard at his school in Belgrade on Wednesday. The police then took him into custody. Due to his age, the perpetrator is not yet of criminal age in Serbia.
There are too many guns in circulation
The second suspect is also young. The Interior Ministry gave his year of birth as 2002. He is said to have committed the crime on Thursday in the village of Dubina, about 50 kilometers south-east of Belgrade. According to eyewitnesses in the Serbian media, a group of mostly young people celebrated the orthodox St. George's Day in a schoolyard, commemorating the victims of the Belgrade school massacre.
The later perpetrator got into an argument with the group, left and returned a little later in a car, from which he is said to have shot at the group. The man then fled. Authorities launched a massive manhunt. More than 600 police officers, including members of the Serbian anti-terrorist unit, as well as helicopters, drones and thermal imaging cameras were deployed. On Friday morning, the security forces arrested the alleged perpetrator on the outskirts of the central Serbian city of Kragujevac.
There he hid in his grandfather's house, who was also arrested by the police. During a search of the property, police found a machine gun, ammunition and explosive devices. Nothing was initially known about the man's motives.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described the bloody deed as a "terrorist act". All of Serbia was attacked, he said at a press conference in Belgrade on Friday morning. The day before, the government had decided on a moratorium on issuing gun licenses and more thorough controls on owners of approved guns. "We will completely disarm Serbia," announced Vucic.
Weapons and violence as a legacy of the wars of disintegration
In fact, the number of firearms owned by civilians is estimated to be enormous. While the number of legally registered weapons has fallen from more than 900,000 to just over 700,000 in recent years, experts from the Small Arms Survey research project, for example, suspect that around one million are illegally in the hands of citizens. Serbia has 6.6 million inhabitants.
In terms of everyday crime, however, the country is not conspicuous. Tourists can feel safe in Serbia like anywhere else in Europe. However, social workers often report cases of domestic violence.
Organized crime is another problem. According to the Global Organized Crime Index of an international expert body, Serbia ranks second only to Russia in terms of organized crime penetration in Europe. Criminal gangs are always involved in bloody feuds. Their leaders are often well networked with the police and politicians.
Gun ownership and crime are also a legacy of the wars of disintegration in the former Yugoslavia, in which Serbia was a driving force in the 1990s. Mafia leaders and their gangs committed war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They enriched themselves immensely through looting in the war zone and smuggling tolerated by the state. Mafia giants like Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, who was murdered in 2000, lived a glamorous lifestyle in Belgrade.
"There is no critical mass"
In doing so, they became a role model supposedly worth imitating for countless male adolescents, which still has an impact today. The alleged assassin from the village near Belgrade is said to have presented himself on social media as an unconditional fan of Kristijan Golubovic, who has been sentenced several times, the portal "nova.rs" wrote. He was imprisoned several times for crimes such as illegal possession of weapons or serious bodily harm and at the same time increased his reputation as a martial artist and rapper.
Despite the shock at the Belgrade school massacre, psychiatrist Dragan Vukadinovic sees no signs of a change in attitudes towards violence and guns in Serbian society. "There is no critical mass there," he told the Belgrade daily Danas on Friday. For the people in Nis, for example, a large city in southern Serbia where Vukadonovic works, all this is far away. "As long as we stick our heads in the sand, nothing will change for the better."