Why attacks on foreigners?

by Limbic on September 27, 2009

Foreigners in Belgrade are not about to be herded into ghettos for our own protection like aliens in District 9. But why is there an outbreak of violent street attacks against foreigners?

Foreigners in Belgrade are not about to be herded into ghettos for our own protection like aliens in District 9. But why is there an outbreak of violent street attacks against foreigners?

From B92:

“A Libyan citizen was assaulted and beaten in Belgrade on Friday night, according to the Interior Ministry. The man was attacked without provocation or reason by a group of young men, according to police. The attack occurred around 23:00 CET on Friday night, and the Libyan citizen, who is a student in Belgrade, suffered injures to the body and head.

… Police believe that there were three attackers. The victim was supposed to meet up with friends, who are Serbian citizens, by the bus station near the Metropol Hotel, according to daily Večernje Novosti. A group of hooligans cut him off on the street and began beating him. They hit him with their hands and legs and then one attacker took a metal bar and hit him in the head. Friday night’s incident is the fourth attack on a foreign citizen in Belgrade over the last 12 days.” – Violence continues as Libyan citizen is assaulted

This is the first publicised attack since the Gay Parade was cancelled last Friday. Some thought that we would return to normality after the parade incident had passed.

Instead we are seeing hooligans continue their attacks, possibly emboldened by what they see as a victory against the government and liberals.

According to Obraz, 1389 and other similar organisations, foreigners are one of the root causes of Serbia’s problems.

The great irony is that whilst there are foreigner enemies of Serbia, they are not IN Serbia.

The Serb haters and anti-Serb campaigners are not based here. They are posting their attacks on Serbia on the internet, from the overseas. They are almost all members of the Yugoslav diaspora. They have never even set foot in their own homelands, not to mention Serbia.

The foreigners you find on the streets of Belgrade are almost by definition friends of Serbia. They are the ones who have come here for love or business or because they like the place.

Beating up foreigners is an own goal for the thugs. They are attacking the one groups of non-Serbs who love this country and its people most.

It is not only criminal and vile, but incredibly stupid. It is also puzzling.

When one asks the question “Qui bono” – who benefits? – the answer appears to be Serb haters and foreigner enemies of Serbia.

Take a look at the comments on B92 or forums across the internet. Anti-Serb forces are delighting in these attacks. They are damaging the reputation of Serbs and Serbia – and at a critical time – just before the UN hearing on Kosovo and the final approval of Visa liberalisation.

If this is politically motivated and there are organised forces behind the attacks (as opposed to mindless criminality) then the effects map against different interest.

The attacks are actually anti-Serb in that they harm Serbia’s reputation and therefore Serbian business, tourism and global standing. This makes the attacks by definition anti-patriotic and in a sense, the attackers are traitors (assuming they are Serbs). People who hate Serbia are benefiting from these attacks and their delight in the attacks shows it. Negative publicity for Serbia might have a negative effect on its upcoming case before the UN over Kosovo. So one set of beneficiaries is Kosovo Albanians nationalists and/or the broad coalition of anti-Serb people and organisations that are the Croat/Bosnian/Albanian versions of the Radical Party (or at the extremes, Obraz and 1389). In short, foreign Serb haters.

I do not think, however, that the attacks are orchestrated by Kosovo Albanian or Croatian Nationalists, even though they are openly delighted by them and stand to benefit from them (any minus for Serbia is a plus for them). There is no evidence of this at all and it is so unlikely as to border on paranoia even to suggest it.

So what, or who,  is the real target?

If there is a “target”, I believe it is either Visa liberalisation or the current government.

Attacks on foreigners may cause the EU to rethink Serbia’s visa liberalisation, or put it on hold.  This would be a boon to certain far right parties who want to keep the people of Serbia – especially the young and unemployed – trapped within, unable to travel to Europe.

The single biggest threat to their political power is the young of Serbia travelling in Europe and being “corrupted” by liberalism. The absurd and unfair visa regime imposed on Serbs for there last two decades has served the interests of extremists and this might be their attempt to prolong the entrapment of the people, and maintain their power.

Another possibility is that this is a security challenge to the government. If the government cannot protect minorities like gays and foreigners – its legitimacy will be corroded. The extremists faced them down over the gay parade and may now be using the initiative to further peg back the government by hitting a  weak spot: foreigners. If a perception develops that Belgrade is another Moscow – that foreigners are not safe on the streets – then it will do serious damage to the country economically and socially. The government knows this and will be frantic to stop this happening. This may give whoever is behind these attacks bargaining power with the government.

This is, of course, speculation. I do not know who or what is behind the violence. I am not even sure that this violence is anything more than noise – random events that we are reading a pattern into.

There have been a series of violent incidents. They may be politically motivated. They may signal a trend. And they may cause serious damage to Serbia if they are not curbed.

We are a long way from that right now. But the security services need to get to the bottom of whatever is happening. If there are shadowy forces orchestrating this for misguided political reasons, they need to be stopped. If this is mere mindless hooliganism, then the people of Serbia need to make a stand against this. They need to express the outrage and anger I hear personally every day. It would be interesting to see if the government protect a parade in support of foreigners in Serbia?

Finally, we need to maintain a sense of perspective. Four attacks in two weeks is still fewer attacks than one would normally see in a city this size. One of the “attacks” – the shooting – was an accident, and the other directly related to hooliganism. This leaves two apparently xenophobic attacks and one of those was directly related to the gay parade.

So lets not panic, but lets not be complacent either. In the meantime please continue to enjoy our favourite city for the wonderful place it is and trust our Serbian friends, lovers, colleagues and spouses to see us all through this situation.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

markowe September 27, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Good analysis. This whole atmosphere just isn’t typical for Serbia, which is generally a friendly, welcoming place for outsiders. As you say, without being too “conspiratorial” about it, this must be in someone’s interest – probably an attempt to discredit the current government, seems like the most probable explanation. If so, it’s working too, the government is not cracking down on these attacks in a very convincing way and is in effect, therefore, giving tacit approval.

One other explanation could simply be that this is Serbia’s version of the neo-Nazism that a lot of East European countries went through during transition, mostly caused by disaffection, unemployment etc. It’s not good for Serbia, whatever, and I hope decisive action is taken soon…


Paul C September 28, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Great analysis of a sad, sad situation. The good news is that this may be the last gasp of these extremists as a serious political force in Serbia – visa liberalisation and the accompanying changes in Serbia’s relations with the rest of Europe will demolish the hothouse environment in which they grow. Still, as you say, complacency is not an option.


Drini September 30, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Prishtina, Kosovo, is extremely friendly to foreigners and welcomes them with open arms. Relocations are welcome.


David October 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

Excellent and balanced piece, thank you.

It would be tempting to point to the economic deprivation that always seems to provoke ultra-right violence. At least we might find some logic in that. Neo-nazis always choose relatively weak, easily indentifiable scapegoat targets for their mindless violence – it can be Jews, Non-whites, Roma, whatever. In this case, foreigners in Belgrade are a small minority who stand out from the crowd. Maybe there is no more conspiracy involved than that.

The problem with this logic is that the criminal thugs who attacked and brutally murdered a completely innocent Frenchman apparently came from ‘middle-class’ backgrounds, not the deperately poor fringes of society. What is that about? God only knows.

I have a suspicion that the bigoted minority who were looking forward to a bloodbath with the Gay Parade found themselves all fired up, with no fight to go to, so they simply created one of their own.

We can only hope that this terrible tradegy provokes the vast majority of good people in Belgrade to stand up and be counted. Serbia deserves better.

And, for pity’s sake, let’s leave the Kosovo issue out of this. It has nothing whatsoever to do with that. I have come to love the Balkans and its people, but sometimes, this insistence on re-running history in an endless blame game frustrates the hell out me. It’s now that matters, and that fundamentally means that anybody – of whatever race, nationality, religion, creed or football team – who is sitting peacefully with friends and a drink has the right to do so free of the fear of attack. Otherwise, there is no future worth having for any of us. For that reason alone, I will be joinig the march later today.


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