You are here
Understanding school shooting in Serbia: and what's next for radicalisation in the country
Despite having one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, Serbia had never had a school shooting. This changed on May 3, when a teenager killed nine of his fellow students and a security guard, reportedly choosing victims on a "kill list". Two days later, in the outskirts of Belgrade, a young heavily armed man shot and killed another eight people and injured several others, in what's been described as a "lone wolf" attack.
In response, the Serbian government announced additional gun control laws, pledged a "disarmament" of the country. Proposals include seizing registered and illegal arms, a more punitive criminal justice system, more funding for police and even reintroduction of the death penalty.
Walking through the streets of Belgrade today, you would not think of Serbian society as militarised. But there are more than 760,000 registered firearms in the country of roughly 6.8 million people, and many more are held unofficially. A large number of weapons entered the black market after the wars in the Balkans following the breakup of Yugoslavia.
However, it may be an understatement to evaluate these acts only through the lens of rampant gun ownership in Serbia. Both occurred in the context of political and ethnic tensions that have been brewing for years. After the fall of Slobodan Milošević’s regime in 2000, Serbia began its economic and political transition to democracy. However, Kosovo independence in 2008 remains to be the most pressing issue that can easily ignite ethnic tensions.
Despite the progress made since 2012, Serbian society has remained highly polarised. In a longread for the New Left Review, Lily Lynch wrote that "there are ‘two Serbias'. The first being nationalist, rural, uneducated, resentful of globalisation, fond of folk music and emotionally allied to Russia. the ‘other’ or ‘second’ Serbia is liberal, educated, unabashedly elitist, anti-nationalist, fond of rock music and looks to the West." Serbia is a highly polarised society that faces the threat of internal conflicts development and more than a culture wars and divisions. Opposition parties have accused Vučić’s populist government of fuelling intolerance and hate speech while taking hold of all institutions. As a response, president of Serbia denied this and announced his own rally on 26 May in Belgrade, which he said will be the “biggest ever”.
Violent football hooligans connected to the organise crime groups, regularly feature in violent paramilitary schemes that include threats, extorsions, kidnaping, and mafia style shootings in Serbia, running alongside political programmes featuring Vučić as his ally.
Combating everyday radicalisation
Everyday radicalisation is an ongoing issue in Serbia, while deradicalization actions concentrate on how to prevent extremist organisations from exploiting grievances by mostly relying upon identarian factors that originate from polarisation in the society. However, this approach suffers from too much concentration on radical acts committed by foreign fighters, Islamists, or white supremacists. As such, it misses radicalisation that can occur in mundane environments without any allegedly tangible political goals.
In everyday contexts, radicalisation is studied looking at people experiencing loss of personal significance (e.g., due to social rejection, achievement failures, or abuse) adopting motivation to restore significance may push them toward the use of extreme means.
However, it is clear that the culprit did not have any political mission and the shooting was an outcome of a mundane issue. So why as a result, every actor in the Serbian sphere politicise this event and prioritise tensions?
The perpetrator was simply frustrated by someone being more successful than he was at school. In this mundane school environment, an exemplary student was alienated from his classmates due to receiving a lower mark than the rest. He expressed his grievance with an act of terror.
Alienation, Grievance, Polarisation, Serbia
As part of the Horizon 2020 funded DRad: Deradicalisation in Europe and Beyond project, we study radicalisation through a model called I-GAP. This approach argues that radicalisation is a result of Injustice that leads to Alienation, Grievance and Polarisation.
Amid the highly polarised politics in Serbia, feelings of everyday injustice that lead to radicalisation can go unnoticed.
This means that radicalisation is triggered by veering away from the mainstream society, but this does not have to be triggered by any ideology. Everyday radicalisation can be accelerated by personal, emotional, or psychological issues, such as alienation or wanting to regain some dignity, retribution for prior maltreatment or a collapse of communication with authority. Along with treating radicalisation as an outcome of political polarisation, policy-makers should also tackle how mundane issues can trigger radicalisation.