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Far-right organisations attack feminist peace activists in Serbia

[Belgrade, 10 December 2021] On International Human Rights Day, we share an article by the Serbian Network for the European Women’s Lobby on the attacks that human rights defenders face in the country.

On 9 November 2021, the International Day against Fascism and Anti-Semitism, the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia banned peace activists from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights from holding a public gathering aimed at removing the mural of a convicted war criminal, military commander Ratko Mladic, located on a residential building in Belgrade city centre. On the same day, women human rights defenders Jelena Jacimovic and Aida Corovic protested the authorities’ decision by throwing eggs at the Ratko Mladic mural. They were immediately arrested and accused of disturbing public peace and order.

On the same evening, in support of Jelena and Aida, several hundreds of human rights activists gathered in Belgrade and headed towards the mural in order to finally remove it. The activists were met by police forces blocking access to the area around the mural under the justification of protecting public peace and order.

Since then, members of far-right organisations have been gathering every day in front of the mural to safeguard it, and to celebrate the war criminal Ratko Mladic. The residents of nearby buildings and the whole neighbourhood reported the gatherings and the far right’s rioting to the local police. Unfortunately, there was no adequate response from the police and the riots continued. Although the municipality inspection service ordered the removal of the mural back in September, no company has accepted the job yet.

Encouraged by the lack of police reaction, the far-right members continued painting murals in this part of the city, thus disturbing public peace and order and endangering citizens’ peace and property. Considering the lack of institutional reaction and the support said groups have received from the authorities, the peace activists organised another protest in Belgrade on Sunday, 13 November. Following the protest, a member of the activist group Women in Black was followed by a group of far-right men who ripped a protest banner out of his hands, took it, and burnt it in a nearby park. The banner read “We will never forget the Srebrenica genocide”.

Following this, and for the second time the same week, members of far-right groups spray-painted the entrance to the Youth Initiative for Human Rights’ offices with messages glorifying the war criminal, and did the same thing again at the entrance of the office of Women in Black. The pro-government media covered the protests in a confusing and inaccurate manner, equating the peace activists to the far-right groups and minimising the severity of the war crimes Serbia is responsible for.

Earlier in the year, on the 26th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide marked on 10 July, Women in Black held a protest under the slogan “We will never forget the Srebrenica genocide” on the Republic Square in Belgrade. The protest was attended by over 70 activists from different towns in Serbia. In mourning and silence, the public action “Srebrenica – the name of genocide” was performed. It consisted of the installation of the Flower of Srebrenica - a symbol of mass suffering and joint struggle for the dignity of the victims of genocide. A symbolic memorial was also installed: the figure 8372 engraved in stone as a sign of non-violent rebellion against the denial of the genocide in Srebrenica. Participants carried banners with messages such as:

“The Srebrenica genocide was carried out with the direct support of the Serbian regime”
“8,372 Bosniak men aged between 12 and 77 were killed in the genocide”
“Over 20,000 members of Serb armed formations took part in the genocide”.

Even before the arrival of Women in Black, the Republic Square was occupied by over 70 members of pro-fascist organisations. They sang songs glorifying war criminals, shouted phrases denying the verdicts of the Hague Tribunal and mocking the victims, and shouting death threats over a megaphone targeting the leader of Women in Black - Staša Zajović (“Staša, I’ll kill you! Get lost from Serbia, Staša, I’ll run you over with a car! Ratko Mladić, Serbian hero! Whores in Black! Staša, who’s going to bury you?...”).

The protest took place with great police security. Except physically separating pro-fascist from the peace activists, the police did not react to the fact that pro-fascist occupied the exact spot in the public space where Women in Black had officially reported to perform the protest, nor to the threats and insults of harassers towards activists.

This event was preceded by the one in May 2021 in Krusevac, where the Association of Women Sandglass in cooperation with the Alternative Centre for Girls and Women in Black organised a street action to mark the anniversary of the street protests (held in Krusevac, in 1999) against forced mobilisation and war in Kosovo. Men, representing themselves as members of the Serbian Radical Party (whose president was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment for war crimes) insulted participants of the street action and walked over the installation with the message "We remember the brave resistance of women." The police warned harassers to leave only after the organisers reminded the police of their duty to ensure the safety of the street protest participants.

These attacks on women human rights defenders in Serbia are going unchallenged by the authorities and are instead relativised and falsely justified. Unfortunately, this is not case only in Serbia, as 21% of women human rights defenders receive death threats in public spaces. At the European Women’s Lobby, we condemn the gendered violence women suffer for their committed work and actions and call for governments to ensure they can do their jobs and live their lives without risks of violence, both in Serbia and across Europe.

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