A deal with the devil

By Boris Dežulović

(an op-ed published on the Portal Novosti website)

“This past Wednesday morning, a 14-year-old student came to the school, carrying two of his father’s guns and three rounds of ammunition, had an argument with the school guard, shot him in the head, after which he stormed into the building, ran into the classroom, shot the history teacher in the stomach, then started frantically shooting around the classroom, firing about twenty bullets, killing seven girls and one boy, and injuring seven more children.

News about this unprecedented crime was not that shocking, because rarely a week goes by without newspapers reporting about a mass shooting in an American school. Except that the unprecedented crime did not happen in the United States this time, but in the centre of Serbia, in Belgrade, in the Vračar neighbourhood.

There are very few phrases in our language that have lost so much value like the term “an unprecedented crime”, and when regional newspapers use this term, it usually means that such a crime has not been committed since last month. “A man slaughters an entire family”, “A man kills his mother with an axe”, “90-year-old woman raped”, “The entire village killed by a Kalashnikov-wielding man”, “A man locks people in a basement and burns them alive”, “City hospital bombed from the air”, “City under siege – 10,000 people killed”… These are just some of the unprecedented crimes which are not unprecedented because they have never happened before during our lifetime, but because we forgot about them.

Finally, the “unprecedented crime” term is so devalued that today every murder committed by a Kalashnikov or usually some kind of brutal gang rape is called called “unprecedented” by the media, and therefore forgotten. And then our demented cultures are horrified, as if no one in the Balkans has ever killed a man with a machine gun or gang-raped a woman. These “shocking!” and “disturbing!” sensations will therefore last until some brave newspaper editor publishes a story about “a crime that is not unprecedented”.

This time around, however, a crime truly unheard of in this part of the world took place. Fourteen-year-old Kosta K., a seventh-grade student, killed the school janitor, then broke into the classroom, shot the history teacher and killed eight students of the Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school in Belgrade. A terrible crime, the kind of which we have only read about in the news from the demented country of the United States of America – where also a dozen people being killed in an elementary school is “an unprecedented crime”- but this time, it happened in our city, in our neighbourhood, in our school.

This time around, it was our child.

“What happened?” – will be a question on the lips of trained socio-pathologists and general subcultural anthropologists in the following days and months, confused before a completely new social phenomenon, a truly unprecedented crime. Has Serbia finally become like America? Did the cult of brute force and violence, which was generated by trashy folk music, trap and gamer culture iconographically – coupled with luxury cars, gold bars, weapons, prostitutes and cocaine, exactly the same as in the Wild West, finally pay off?

“The cancerous and destructive influence of the Internet, video games and Western values are evident. It is clear to everyone that a major turnaround and systematic solutions are needed so that this tragedy would not grow into a socially acceptable behaviour model like in Western societies. Today we had a very meaningful and emotionally charged conversation with President Aleksandar Vučić about this”, said Branko Ružić, one of the trained socio-pathologists and general subcultural anthropologists and currently the Serbian Education Minister.

“A socially acceptable behaviour model like in the Western societies”? “Western values”?

Aside from the rather carelessly chosen moment to pick “socially acceptable” sides of the world, at a time when a small-scale third world war is raging on the very eastern side of that same world, only a few months ago, a former student stormed a school, carrying two guns, in Izhevsk, Russia, killing eleven students and two teachers.

The 14-year-old killer from the elite Belgrade school did not come from a troubled family, nor from the ranks of the arrogant Belgrade children who cultivate “Western values” and are driven to school in yellow Lamborghinis with a gun in a glove compartment. We are talking about the son of a prominent Belgrade doctor, an introverted boy and an excellent student, who, as we found out, had almost all A’s, attended acting classes, competed at school mathematics championships and last year participated in the local history competition. In short, a “nerd” and the ideal victim of peer violence and school bullies, which is why, after all, he changed classes and school shift this year.

The trigger was precisely the history class – enraged by the fact that the history teacher gave him an F, he took two of his father’s pistols, broke into the school and shot the same history teacher, and then, in an altered state of conscience, set out to take revenge on his classmates, the school and the whole world.

Let’s therefore wait for the results of the investigation and psychiatric examination of the juvenile killer, and until then let’s stick to what we know – the father had two pistols and the child got an F in history.

As we learned at the police press conference, Kosta took the two pistols from the safe where his father kept them, who, as a gun lover, even took his son to the shooting range and taught him to shoot. That, and not as the Education Minister claims “video games”, explains the unusual efficiency of the juvenile killer, who killed nine and wounded seven people with about twenty bullets. However, where did the doctor get a gun? Why did he have two of them?

According to a recent survey by the independent organization World Population Review, Serbia ranks fourth in the world in terms of the number of civilian firearms – behind the undisputed United States, Yemen and New Caledonia – and the first in Europe with as many as 39 firearms per hundred inhabitants. The mathematics here is simple and one does not need to be a government minister to do the calculations. According to the last population census in Serbia, the country’s population is made of fifty-one percent of women and forty-nine percent of men, among whom twenty percent were children under the age of fourteen, which means that out of a hundred citizens of Serbia, forty-nine are men, ten of whom are boys under the age of fourteen. So, the calculation here is exactly 39 adult men and older minors on 39 firearms.

In short, statistically, every man and every father in Serbia has a gun at home.

Where did that powerful weapon come from in Serbia? Where did that gun – be it an Uzi, or a rifle, or a Kalashnikov – come from? If you ask yourself these questions, you deserve an F from history. That is why, as we brutally witnessed this Wednesday, a boy can find a gun in his father’s safe.

Little Kosta – that statistically unarmed child under the age of fourteen – attended, as we also found out, a private acting school. At least there, if not in history classes, he could have learned the dramaturgical canon of the great Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: “If, in the first act there is a gun hanging on the wall, that gun must fire in the third act. If it won’t fire, then there’s no reason for it to hang on the wall.”

In the third act, the fathers took down the weapons from the wall, put them in the hands of fourteen-year-old children and taught them how to shoot. No one asks or remembers where the weapon on the wall came from.

The first act in Serbia took place too long ago.

It was an unprecedented crime.”

(Danas, 05.05.2023)



This post is also available in: Italiano

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