I would like to take this opportunity not only to explain my physical injuries but also to convey their deep emotional impact and my concern about what happened to me on April 6th of this year in the center of Belgrade.
Specifically, after the protest held by Women in Black and citizens' organizations to mark the passage of the Law about financial assistance for the families of the accused war criminals currently on trial at The Hague Tribunal, my friend Radojica Buncic and I were attacked by four unknown perpetrators.
The attack began when one of the four demanded to know what kind of signs we were carrying and why. After Rade was hit in the head the first time, my only reaction was "wait, stop..." Then, one of the offenders came up to me and asked me what I wanted. In that moment, his attention was on the pin I wore, an international peace flag with the word ‘paix’ (‘peace’ in French) on it. He equated it with the flag of the gay and lesbian movement. He call me a "faggot," and then said "isn't Serbia good enough for you?" and "Go to Croatia," after which he hit me in the face and kicked me.
When I recovered and stood up, I tried to enter a nearby cafe, where they gave me permission to wash my face, as long as I would do only that and then leave the premises. Until the arrival of the police, we stayed in the nearby Grafickog Kolektiva gallery.
After the usual investigation procedure at the emergency room in Belgrade, I was released with minor injuries.
However, the embarrassment hurt more than the physical injuries. I regularly experience shame and fear because I have decided to stay and live in Serbia, which obviously still isn't ready to accept ‘the other’ and different lifestyles and attitudes. Here, the only dialogue between citizens of different political views seems to be physical conflict. This increasing nationalism, which is supported by various state institutions, is based on the idea of a ‘pure nation,’ which excludes those citizens who are critical of the government and society in which they live. However, it is both terrible and humiliating that after every effort that has been made to give Serbia a new image, one that is much cleaner than it was in the past, the same people who ‘most supported’ the country, the nationalists, are still dirtying Serbia’s image.
During the past few days, I have shared my concern with those who feel that the burning and destruction of sacred objects is an attack on their identity, whichever identity that is. Because of the suffering of the Serbian population in Kosovo I protested on the street, publicly declaring my solidarity with all victims of violence. I was in solidarity with those who say that the past is damaged, but I am more concerned about the future, which I feel is insecure because of the permanent reproduction of violence.
As a citizen, a peace and gay rights activist, conscientious objector, feminist, and individual whose most important identity is the identity of not belonging, I will always go out and publicly state my opinion. I believe that the only way to act politically and voice different political opinions is through the nonviolent use of public space. By standing on the public square, holding signs with slogans that I support, I believe that I am not physically endangering anyone, and I am not putting anyone's life in jeopardy.
I am aware that a number of people don't agree with this, but many different ways to show political difference exist. Physical attack is one of the basest ways of showing disparagement and judgment; it is a cowardly act that is understood only by those who hold retrograde beliefs about the use of physical power, specifically the belief that one can silence politically opponents by beating them.
The fear that I experienced confirmed something that I don't want to believe, that Serbia isn't changing, and that our society still publicly shows its violent face. I expect different public and national institutions to publicly condemn this act, and I call on them to ask themselves if their public attitudes support violence against citizens in this society. Does a modern Serbia condone the extermination of people who think and act differently, or does it support life together with all our differences? Is the spreading of fear and insecurity among citizens, and silence about this and similar attacks that have occurred in the center of Belgrade during the day, the way to the ‘better tomorrow’ that political parties and the ideological leaders of various right-wing movements promise?
Boban Stojanovic is a Women in Black activist