Serbia rattled by the killing of 17 people in back-to-back mass shootings

Gun ownership in Serbia is among the highest in Europe and a massive proliferation of small arms took place in the country and in around the Balkans during the civil wars in the 1990s which led to the disintegration of the erstwhile Yugoslavia.

May 06, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Serbians pay homage to the victims of a mass shooting at a Belgrade school. Photo: Balkan Insight

In two separate incidents of mass shootings, 17 people were killed and more than a dozen people were injured in Serbia this week. On May 4, Thursday, at midnight, a man with an automatic weapon opened fire from a moving car in the village of  Dubona, south of Belgrade. Eight people were killed and 14 were injured. After an extensive manhunt, police reportedly arrested the culprit by Friday morning. On Wednesday, a 13-year-old boy shot dead 8 fellow pupils, as well as a security guard at the Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School in Belgrade. In the aftermath of the shooting, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called for tight restrictions on gun ownership in the country.

Gun ownership in Serbia is among the highest in Europe and according to reports, as per an estimate in 2019, there are 39.1 firearms per 100 people in Serbia. According to this estimate, Serbia is the country with the third highest gun ownership rate in the world, behind the US and Montenegro. Masina reported that in 2018, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP), 973,790 firearms were registered in Serbia, while it is estimated that there are at least 220,000 in circulation, and about 900,000 illegal weapons.

Observers have pointed out that the proliferation of small arms became rampant in Serbia and in other parts of the Balkans during the civil wars which led to the disintegration of erstwhile Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In its statement issued on May 4, the Union of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) said that “in the past few years, we have witnessed an increase in violence and depression among young people, with more cases of teenage suicides in the previous few months. Young people today face great pressure from the environment they live in, culminating in tragic events like this one. In the future, SKOJ will devote itself, especially to the fight for the mental health, safety, and rights of students. We cannot return the lives of the victims – instead, it is the duty of all of us to ensure that an event like this never happens again.”

The political platform Solidarity stated that “what is certain is this tragedy demonstrates in the most horrific way the need for gun control and bans around children….Even before this tragic event, Serbia had devastating statistics on the number of children and women killed in violence, now it is more than clear that some things need to systemically change.”

The Party of the Radical Left (PRL) in Serbia also expressed condolences to the families and friends of all the victims of the mass shootings.