After the Cetinje massacre, Montenegrin intolerance as usual drowns out the firearms debate

Montenegro was rocked earlier this month by a rare massacre in its royal capital, Cetinje, where all the president and the country’s two dominant Orthodox churches reside.

Ten people died when a gunman ransacked an apartment building with a shotgun, killing a tenant and her two children before shooting random passers-by and other neighbors, including her uncle. His unknown motive, the shooter, Vucko Borilovic, 33, was allegedly beaten down in the midst of a clash with police and at least one armed civilian.

“Even the oldest Cetinjians don’t remember anything like that,” said one resident. said after.

It was a stark reminder of the potential for violence in this Adriatic country of around 600,000 people, which was spared the worst violence but still marked by intense conflict during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. .

But despite signs of public frustration over the prevalence of guns in a former war zone where gun ownership is largely taken for granted, the killings have mostly been divisive along the same cultural and religious lines. that have plagued Montenegro since it broke away from its union of states. with Serbia more than ten years ago.

Firefighters stand next to the body of one of the victims of the August 12 attack in Cetinje.

Already facing another tipping point as lawmakers ready to oust The country’s third government in two years, reactions on social media quickly turned into warnings of divine retaliation or broader political motives when none were apparent.

“The Cetinje tragedy and some reactions after it reflect society, and inevitably our political context,”

Andja Backovic, a psychologist based in Podgorica, told RFE/RL’s Balkan service.

“There are already so many intolerances, misunderstandings and vengeful emotions accumulated in Montenegro.

Predictably, some are trying to instrumentalize this tragedy, that is, to use it as evidence or indication of the correctness of their otherwise evil and frightening personal and political attitudes.”

Montenegro is one of the seven states that eventually emerged from the former Yugoslavia, with particularly close historical, religious, ethnic and linguistic ties to Serbia.

“There are already so many intolerances, misunderstandings and vengeful emotions accumulated in Montenegro,” said Andja Backovic, a Podgorica-based psychologist with RFE/RL’s Balkan department.

About a third of Montenegrins consider themselves Serbs, and a majority of the predominantly Orthodox population attends services provided by a branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which does not fully recognize Montenegro’s independence and has a history of interference. in his policy.

President Milo Djukanovic’s efforts to rein in the Serbian Church in favor of an unrecognized Montenegrin alternative influenced the 2020 elections against his long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and in favor of a coalition led by Serbian nationalists, and an agreement on church-state reports leads to downfall this month of the last Montenegrin government, led by Dritan Abazovic.

In this incendiary context of religious, political and ethno-national tensions that have long hampered public dialogue in the country, some public figures have used the Cetinje tragedy to fuel the underlying fires.

A city councilor for tourism, culture and religious issues in Montenegro’s second-largest city, Niksic, took to Facebook on the day of the tragedy to suggest it was “God’s punishment for the desecration of holy places”, an indirect reference to venerated places. both by nationalists and by the Orthodox faithful.

Councilor Miljan Mijuskovic later deleted the comment and apologized alongside a somber image to mourn the killer’s victims. But he also blamed the media for “‘monitoring private comments'” and accused them of politicizing his remarks. His Facebook comment, Mijuskovic said, was unofficial and “was nothing more than a Christian call for repentance.” He warned that all Montenegrins “should be aware that increasing tensions and provocations have never brought any good”.

Political rivals have called for Mijuskovic’s dismissal.

Neither the police nor the local authorities claimed a link between the Cetinje shooter’s political affiliation and his motives.

Flags were flown at half-mast at the entrance to Cetinje for three days of national mourning for the victims.

Flags were flown at half-mast at the entrance to Cetinje for three days of national mourning for the victims.

Borilovic was a local member of the Social Democrats (SD), a small centre-left party that emerged seven years ago from a split in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which governed alongside the DPS.

On August 14 and 15, outspoken columnist Dragan Rosandic describes the tragedy in Cetinje as “a consequence of several months of … orgy” by radical Montenegrin nationalists and “the authorities’ failure to respond to this phenomenon”.

People are very nervous, they have no patience for others, and that’s why [gun possession] should be really limited.”

He said that “for the past year I have been pleading, warning, pleading, as a former security service professional, for the authorities and others to stop this madness – but no one has done anything”.

Rosandic linked him to the unrest in Niksic in July when the police used tear gas to break up a rally on Montenegrin Statehood Day which drew counter-protests of pro-Serbian elements who would have the support of the Serbian church.

The columnist said later the police had charged him with a misdemeanor for attributing a political context to the events in Cetinje.

According to psychologist Backovic, the seemingly unfounded suggestions of Mijuskovic and Rosandic on political or religious motives for the killings are particularly damaging because they come from prominent members of Montenegrin society.

“A part of the citizens identify with these people, and it’s like they get some kind of permission to behave in this way because it comes from people in office,” she said. “This is how a kind of social infection is spreading in Montenegro.”

Furor over religious or political implications and speculation about real or imagined factors in the tragedy have crowded out any debate about Montenegro’s gun culture or its history of gun violence.

Some Montenegrins say it is finally time to challenge the prevalence of private firearms in their country.

“It’s scary that we have so many weapons among the people, especially now that the situation is tense because of the wars [in Ukraine] and everything,” Zuzana Zivkovic, a saleswoman from the coastal town of Budva, told RFE/RL’s Balkan department. “People are very nervous, they have no patience for others, and that’s why [gun possession] should be really limited.”

A memorial ceremony for the victims in Cetinje took place on 14 August.

A memorial ceremony for the victims in Cetinje took place on 14 August.

There is no automatic right to own a firearm in Montenegro, or anywhere else in the region. But in the Balkans, where all but the youngest generation endured ethnically fueled wars that killed an estimated 130,000 people in the early 1990s, the prevalence of guns and gun-related deaths stands out. .

No Balkan country ranks in the top 10 for violent gun deaths, according to UN figures. But Montenegro is currently 12th in the world for gun-related deaths at 8.91 per 100,000 – well above Serbia, which is 22nd at 3.49. The global average is 6.5, although rates in some of the most problematic countries in Central and South America are in the 30s, 40s or even 60s in the case of Honduras.

And Montenegro has one of the highest rates of gun assisted suicide in the world. Its 3.4 deaths per 100,000 population in the last available year (2019) were fifth worstbehind Greenland, the United States, Uruguay and the microstate of San Marino.

Montenegro’s Ministry of Interior partnered with the United Nations, European Union, OSCE and a local NGO called the Center for Democratic Transition (DCT) in 2015 to encourage registration or confiscation illegally held firearms.

Their Respect Life, Surrender Weapons campaign seized on an amnesty provision in new laws aimed at reducing the number of firearms in private hands.

But seven years later, Montenegro and Serbia are still neck and neck for the third highest rate of private gun ownership among 206 countries monitored by GunPolicy.orga research site run by the University of Sydney School of Public Health.

“What should I say about so many privately owned guns? It’s wrong,” Drita Harovic, a retired mother of four in Podgorica, told RFE/RL’s Balkan service.

She blamed the state for not further tightening gun ownership laws and procedures.

“We can be cosmopolitan and all, but something is recorded in the genetic code,” said Jelena Papovic, an artist from Budva. “We live in daily stress, and if I owned a gun – ironically speaking – I don’t know how many times I would have pulled it myself now.”

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by correspondents Aneta Durovic and Predrag Tomovic and other RFE/RL Balkan Service staff

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