On May 9th 2002, Women in Black — Belgrade and the Center for Cultural Decontamination held a roundtable discussion entitled ‘Fascism and Neo-Fascism Today.’ May 9th is both Victory Day against Fascism and The Day of Europe.
Representatives from non-governmental organizations, local communities, different sectors of public and cultural life, and the organization Women in Black gathered for the meeting.
Special guests from Zagreb included Vesna Terselic, from The Peace Studies Institute, and Zoran Pusic, a human rights activist. Zarko Korac, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, greeted the participants, but was unable to stay for the panel discussion.
A roundtable was also held in Zagreb on the same day. Participants in the discussion in Belgrade were NGO representatives from Serbia; Marija Perkovic, a journalist from Vrbas and Bojan Toncic, a journalist from the Belgrade newspaper Danas. Borka Pavicevic, director of The Center for Cultural Decontamination, and Nada Despotovic, a member of the organization Women in Black, opened the discussion.
The participants, who came from eleven cities in Serbia, were:
Milenko Nesovic, Kraljevo
Dr. Violeta Sosic, Krusevac
Drazen Ruzic, Leskovac
Nada Dabic, Novi Sad
Bogdan Djurovic, Nis
Verica Barac, Cacak
Vojkan Ristic, Vranje
Ferzo Celovic, Priboj
Nedziba Halilovic, Prijepolje
Tomislav Zigmanov, Subotica
Ildiko Erdei, Pancevo
The discussion focused on the situation in Serbia and in particular on the presence of 'hate speech' and nationalist behavior in society. The negative effects of these phenomena were also addressed.
Kraljevo: The local community does not want to recognize negative attitudes towards refugees and the Roma population. According to some people, NGOs are ‘Satanist seeds from the West which destroy the Orthodox Church.’
Krusevac: This city has become an ‘ethnic’ city and children refugees are forced to use the ekavica accent in schools. Priests have contributed to the spreading of ‘hate speech’ in the media and citizens have expressed concern about the role of the NGO sector in spreading ‘illnesses and infections’ from the West.
Leskovac: Chauvinistic behavior is very often seen in local restaurants and clubs. The SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia) has declared that certain families should move to Montenegro, because they have ‘a reserved homeland there and Serbia belongs to Serbs.’ According to their statements the Orthodox religion is the only true religion, and all others are sects.
Novi Sad: The new organizations Krv i cast (Blood and Honor), Obraz (Honor) and Svetosavska Omladina (Saint Sava's Youth) spread hate against ‘the other.’ Posters with Radovan Karadzic's image were spread around the city. However, some citizens covered them with other symbols.
Niš: The Obraz nationalist organization holds meetings three times per month in the city hall with the approval of the local authorities. These meetings attract a large number of people. This type of behavior is further supported by a small group of skinheads who have posted signs around Niš promoting Serbian ethnicity and hatred towards Roma and Chinese. Research among 1,400 Serbian religious, social and ethnic groups revealed large divisions between citizens of Serbia. Forty percent of the Serb population would not accept a blood transfusion from Roma people, and half of the citizens would not have sexual contact with them.
Prijepolj: Trade unions identify themselves by their ethnicity: "I don't want to be a member of the Bosniak trade union and become a traitor to the Serbian nation.”
Priboj: One can feel the domination of the SPC (The Serbian Orthodox Church). Filaret, a well-known priest in Priboj, holds public rallies promoting hate speech.
Vranje: In Southern Serbia all authorities attempt to influence citizens according to their own interests. The international community's ‘shuttle diplomacy’ helps solve ethnic problems; however, there are many obstacles in multi-ethnic relations. Roma are marginalized and can only find low-level and often demeaning jobs. Special interests control the mass media. Bishop Pahomije of Vranje has encouraged childbearing through his suggestion that the church would be willing to adopt newborn children whose mothers do not want to give birth to them or raise them. This attitude has disturbed the public.
Pancevo: When a multiethnic school burned to its foundation, its pupils were transferred to another school. This was a major incident. The director of the school where the students were now studying sent a letter to the local authorities asking for help. “New pupils have ruined our school because they are multiethnic. We are good and honest nationalists. They should thank us for Saint Sava's hospitality and leave.”
Subotica: Religious site have been bombed. The SRS (Serbian Radical Party) and SSJ (Serbian Unity Party) propagate ethnocentrism. The ethnic picture is changing but there still exists a hidden ethnic dimension.
Cacak: To be 'less Serb' or 'less Orthodox' is dangerous in this city. Vladimir Dimitrijevic, a leader of Obraz, is opening The Academy of Nikolaj Velimirovic. A commission on name changing has also given this name to another school. All representatives of the local community voted for the inclusion of religious instruction in schools, even though they do not have the authority to do so. The 'civil parliament' was expelled from Cacak and the local government has a very restrictive media policy.
Vesna Terselic, Zagreb: The situation in Croatia is in some ways very similar to that in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia while at the same time very different. Every city has right-wing extremism, nationalism or fascism, forces who aim to intimidate citizens. Similar phenomena can be seen in the larger European context (France, Hungary, Austria, and the Netherlands). Examples of the rise in extremism in Croatia include monument erected and dedicated to Ustasa Juraj Francetic in Slunjh, and the renaming of Zagreb's Victims of Fascism Square. In the past, such problems were addressed by the authorities, however now the citizens themselves must act and effect change. They must be willing to initiate dialogue and not simply rely on one-dimensional approaches.
ZAGREB'S 'THEATRE OF THE OPPRESSED' FOCUSES ON DEFINING VARIOUS SOCIAL PROBLEMS.
In Croatia, we focus on the issue of what needs to be remedied and how we can initiate dialogue, bearing in mind the biases that often blinds people with different political orientations. It is especially important that there is cooperation between people and a willingness to learn from one another.
Belgrade: In everyday life, citizens are often bombarded with non-democratic messages, such as "Ustasas, return to Zagreb," and "we help our people, not foreigners" (Strahinja Suljagic).
Fascism is a key theme. Right-wing extremism, clericalism and Bolshevism are flourishing today because everything is controlled by the state. Nationalism is an instrument of war used to eliminate 'otherness.' The Ravnogorci and Bogomoljci movements are punishing people if they do not accept and follow the Orthodox Church's dogma. These are not simply cases of rhetoric, but of 'hate speech.' (Nebojsa Popov)
The law forbids ‘hate speech,’ but it is widespread. Technically, it is a crime with specific consequences. Democratic principles must be learned. (Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco)
Being 'Jewish' is often viewed as something shameful. It has been said that Labus is a Jew. (Aleksandar Lebl)
The Hague Tribunal is considered anti-Serbian in Serbia, while in Croatia it is viewed as anti-Croatian. Seselj's rhetoric encourages ‘hate speech.’ He clearly forewarned that in 70 to 80 years war would once again break out in Croatia, after Russia has regained its strength. (Vojin Dimitrijevic)
Hate speech clearly exists. For example, it is said that the Roma are the 'blacks of the Balkans who contaminate our culture and environment.' Serbs identify themselves directly with the Orthodox religion. The Serbian Orthodox Church stigmatizes all other religious communities by labeling them 'sects.' In Serbia the Roma have two deaths: the first being their ostracism from society and the second being their actual burial. Being Serbian is honorable, while being a non-Serb is shameful. ( Pavel Domonji)
Hate speech is so prevalent because it was not eliminated after the last decade of war. The authorities use the people for their own interests. (Drinka Gojkovic)
Some media use the same terminology as was used at the beginning of the turbulent last decade of the 20th century. After twelve years, the same texts and faces are once again appearing. Our present situation is so depressing because we still do not understand our horrible reality. (Borka Pavicevic)
Report prepared by: Nada Despotovic and Ljiljana Radovanovic