As usual, after the massacre in Cetinje, Montenegrin intolerance drowned out the arms debate
Montenegro was rocked earlier this month by a rare mass killing in its royal capital, Cetinje, where the president and the country’s two dominant Orthodox churches are based.
Ten people died when a gunman rampaged through a rental property with a hunting rifle, killing a tenant and her two children before accidentally shooting dead bystanders and other neighbors, including his uncle. His motive was reportedly unknown, the shooter, 33-year-old Vucko Borilovic shot amid a confrontation with police and at least one armed civilian.
“Even the oldest Cetinjians don’t remember anything like that,” says a local said later.
It was a brutal reminder of the potential for violence in this Adriatic country with around 600,000 inhabitants, which was spared the worst violence when the former Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s, but was nevertheless marked by violent conflicts.
But despite signs of public frustration at the proliferation of firearms in a former war zone where gun ownership is widely taken for granted, the killings have mostly sparked divisions along the same cultural and religious lines that have plagued Montenegro since it broke away from separated its state union with Serbia more than a decade ago.
As legislators, they are already at another turning point ready to oust the country’s third government in two years, social media reactions quickly turned to warnings of divine vengeance or broader political motives when none were apparent.
“The tragedy in Cetinje and certain reactions to it reflect society and, inevitably, our political context,”
Podgorica-based psychologist Andja Backovic told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
“There is already so much intolerance, misunderstanding and revenge in Montenegro.
Not surprisingly, some seek to exploit this tragedy — that is, to use it as evidence or evidence of the correctness of their otherwise perverse and frightening personal and political stance.
Montenegro is one of seven states that eventually emerged from the former Yugoslavia with particularly close historical, religious, ethnic and linguistic ties to Serbia.
Around a third of Montenegrins consider themselves Serbs, and a majority of the predominantly Orthodox population attend services held by a branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which does not fully recognize Montenegro’s independence and has a history of interfering in its politics.
President Milo Djukanovic’s efforts to contain the Serbian Church in favor of an unrecognized Montenegrin alternative swayed the 2020 election against his long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and in favor of a Serbian nationalist-led coalition and an agreement on Papal State relations led to its downfall this month the recent Montenegrin government led by Dritan Abazovic.
Against this combustible backdrop of religious, political and ethno-national tensions that have long impeded public dialogue in the country, some public figures used the Cetinje tragedy to stoke the underlying fires.
A municipal consultant for tourism, culture and religious issues in Niksic, Montenegro’s second largest city, took to Facebook on the day of the tragedy and suggested it was “God’s punishment for desecrating holy sites,” an indirect reference to places revered by nationalists and orthodox believers alike.
The agent, Miljan Mijuskovic, later deleted the comment and he apologized alongside a somber image to mourn the killer’s victims. But he also criticized the media for “monitoring private comments” and accused them of politicizing his words. According to Mijuskovic, his Facebook comment was unofficial and “nothing more than a Christian call to repentance”. He warned that all Montenegrins “should be aware that stoking tensions and provocations have never brought anything good”.
Political rivals called for Mijuskovic’s dismissal.
Neither the police nor local authorities have claimed any link between the Cetinje gunman’s political affiliation and his motives.
Borilovic was a local member of the Social Democrats (SD), a smaller centre-left party that emerged seven years ago from a split in the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which used to govern alongside the DPS.
On August 14 and 15, outspoken columnist Dragan Rosandic described the tragedy in Cetinje as “a consequence of several months of … orgy” by radical ethnic Montenegrin nationalists and “the failure of the authorities to react to this phenomenon”.
People are very nervous, they don’t have patience for others and that’s why [gun possession] should really be restricted.”
He said: “For a year, as a former security service worker, I have asked, warned, asked the authorities and others to stop this madness – but nobody has done anything.”
Rosandic linked it to the riots in Niksic in July The police used tear gas to break up a rally on Montenegrin Statehood Day that was a draw counter-demonstrations from pro-Serb elements is said to have the support of the Serbian Church.
The columnist said later The police had charged him with a misdemeanor for attributing a political connection to the events in Cetinje.
Mijuskovic and Rosandic’s seemingly unfounded references to political or religious motives in the killings are particularly damaging, according to psychologist Backovic, as they come from prominent members of Montenegrin society.
“Some of the citizens identify with people like that, and it’s like they get some kind of permission to behave that way because it comes from people in office,” she said. “So a kind of social infection is spreading in Montenegro.”
Excitement over religious or political implications and speculation about real or imagined factors in the tragedy eclipsed any debate about Montenegro’s gun culture or history of gun violence.
Some Montenegrins say it’s finally time to challenge the proliferation of privately owned guns in their country.
“It’s scary that we have so many guns among the people, especially now that the situation is tense because of the wars [in Ukraine] and everything,” Zuzana Zivkovic, a shop assistant from the coastal city of Budva, told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. “People are very nervous, they don’t have patience for others and that’s why [gun possession] should really be restricted.”
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 have endured ethnic wars that claimed an estimated 130,000 lives in the early 1990s, the prevalence of firearms and gun-related deaths stands out.
According to the UN, no Balkan country ranks in the top 10 for violent deaths from guns. But Montenegro currently ranks 12th in the world for gun-related deaths at 8.91 per 100,000 – well ahead of Serbia, which ranks 22nd at 3.49. The global average is 6.5, although rates in some of the most troubled countries in Central and South America are as high as 30, 40, or even 60 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 people in the latest available year (2019). fifth worstbehind Greenland, the United States, Uruguay and the microstate of San Marino.
The Montenegrin Interior Ministry partnered with the United Nations, the European Union, the OSCE and a local NGO called the Center for Democratic Transition (DCT) in 2015 to encourage the registration or loss of illegally held firearms.
Her Respect Life, Surrender Weapons campaign seized on an amnesty provision in new laws aimed at reducing the number of guns in private ownership.
But seven years later, Montenegro and Serbia still tie for the third highest rate of private gun ownership among 206 countries monitored by GunPolicy.orga research site run by the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.
“What can I say about so many privately owned guns? It’s evil,” Drita Harovic, a retired mother of four in Podgorica, told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
She accused the state of not further tightening gun ownership laws and procedures.
“We can be cosmopolitan and stuff, but something is recorded in the genetic code,” said Jelena Papovic, an artist in Budva. “We live in the stress of everyday life and if I owned a gun – ironically – I don’t know how many times I would have drawn it myself.”