A midsummer night's skinhead attack

A friend of East Ethnia sent along this little item about a recent violent attack by skinheads in Belgrade. I won’t go into the details here, you can read about them if you care to. While the violence and racism are predictable enough, it might be most interesting to note the complete failure of the police to prevent the attack or respond in any way. This is perhaps not so surprising either, considering a number of recent incidents that are well known. These would include the utter failure of prosecutors to respond to invitations to ethnic hatred on the part of a large political party which is only formally in the opposition, and would also include the participation of police in the same spirit as rioters in violent clashes at sporting events.

Some of the details of these incident might seem baffling to normal people: chanting “Auschwitz” at Jewish people, repeatedly addressing people of Croatian ethnicity as “Ustaše,” maybe bizarrest of all, throwing matches between police and sport hooligans involving urine-filled condoms. Some of these seem too vulgarly stupid to be true, like snippets of a compulsive belcher’s works of science fiction.

There is certainly something to be observed in the atmosphere of Belgrade which might be thought of as contributing to these sorts of incidents. Anybody could reply well, there are violent racist idiots everywhere, which would of course be true. There may be something telling about the most recent crop of global racist idiocy: when planes can be diverted and escorted by fighter plane because somebody on there thinks that another person is “acting strange,” or is dressed wrong, or is of a certain regional origin, then it looks like a certain licence is being renewed. All those people who were compelled by politeness or the fear of social isolation to keep their racist thoughts quiet can suddenly express them all they like, and fighter pilots will be ordered to supply the punctuation. This is observable over the course of a couple of weeks, when panic takes hold, order breaks down, and “security” types crawl out of their moleholes.

I doubt very much that people in Belgrade are any stupider or more filled with hate than anybody else on the planet. What makes the situation there unique is the degree to which the society and its values have been destroyed, leaving it with precious little to position against the skinheads. Watch any of the television talk shows and listen to the shouting and cheering. The only thing they have got that the skinheads do not is hair.

It is easy to dismiss the occasional outbursts of violence by violent racists as coming from the margins, the lumpish lumping of lumpen youth. Like the image of terrorists coming from the ranks of the most oppressed, this is not generally the case. The Boston youth who received a comically handwringing sentence for beating two young women is the son of the director of one of the city’s major arts centers; the “9/11” hijackers were educated sons of prominent families; the intellectual leaders of the Serbian skinheads are writers, artists, critics.

Like every other political fact, racism is about power – especially, about the fear of losing power. That is why groups of young violent people will be most active when they believe that what they are doing is supported, even if silently, by the more respectable members of their community. That is why seemingly unrelated parts of the atmosphere, like the media presence of extremists, the use of the Parliament for invitations to violence, the support of war criminals, and the general worthlessness of the police, contribute to the frequency of this type of event. If people in positions of authority begin to speak out, who will believe them?

Update: Two attackers have been arrested, after voluntarily going to police. One of them is "Predrag M," whose lawyer appears to have been told to acknowledge the facts of the case but not the motivation of the attackers. The other is an unnamed US citizen, who is for some reason being protected by the US Embassy. The police, who failed to respond, have spent the day denying that they failed to respond.

Update: Friend of East Ethnia AR points us to an article in today's Blic (no direct link to the article until it gets into the archive, majke im) from which we learn: 1) how the attackers identified their victims (by asking them), 2) the names and major fields of study of the attackers, and 3) the tonsorial similarities linking skinheads and their victims.

The judge and the general

AP is reporting comments made by Wolfgang Schomburg, a judge at the ICTY, in which he suggested that the EU's linkage between Serbia's association talks and the war-crimes question could be counterproductive. "It can certainly become counterproductive if a country perceives itself taken hostage because of one or two wanted people," he said in an interview. He also said that the Tribunal was there to judge individuals, not states.

These comments are so wrong at so many levels it's tough to decide where to start. At the most basic level, of course, it's entirely up to the EU to make this linkage (which is a tried and tested approach, not something new they just came up with) and frankly none of the ICTY's business. It's also highly tendentious to imply, as his reported statements seem to do, that the linkage somehow means that the ICTY is now running the risk of judging states not persons. (I'm open to the suggestion that this apparent implication is an artifact of the way the interview, which was made by Austria Press Agency, was reported by AP.) And if Serbia "perceives itself" taken hostage, that's, frankly, Serbia's problem -- perhaps it then shouldn't have applied for association with the EU, or indeed signed up at Dayton to the obligation of catching war criminals (sorry, "persons indicted for war crimes").

But perhaps the judge wasn't just airing his personal views? Perhaps his comments have to be seen in the context of recent statements by unnamed "sources close to EU diplomats" (whatever those may be -- waiters? Cleaning ladies?) reported by Politika to the effect that it was "not unrealistic" to expect a stabilization agreement to be concluded even with Mladic at large? Wouldn't be the first time that the EU went wobbly on Serbia. We shall know more in September.