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Art Workers Speak out Against Wave of Violence in Serbia

October 19, 2020

Today, October 18 2020, in front of the pavilion of the Artists’ Union of Serbia (ULUS) in Belgrade, artists and cultural workers gathered to express solidarity with a comic artist group whose exhibition was destroyed five days ago. They were also protesting the inappropriate reaction of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia to the continuing violence of right-wing extremist groups against cultural workers.

Photographs by Rena Raedle 

Board members of the artists’ association and other speakers once again condemned the Ministry of Culture’s attacks on the freedom of art and the denigration of cultural and artists’ associations in its statements. The appointment of a competent person to the ministerial office was demanded.

The occasion for the solidarity gathering was the recent attack on the exhibition of comic drawings created by the group “Momci” during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990’s. Five days ago, a group of young people dressed in black and equipped with tear gas had entered the Stara Kapetanija Gallery and devastated the entire exhibition ( https://www.telegraf.rs/english/3249565-threats-over-drawing-of-a-bloodied-baby-carried-out-hooligans-break-into-exhibition-throw-tear-gas ). 

The exhibited works depicted the normalization of violence in the society of the Nineties in a morbid style of humor. The cartoon that incurred the anger of part of the internet public and eventually resulted in the attack, was the drawing of a baby with its eyes wide open, in a pool of blood and with an axe in its head. The caption “Crybaby – a baby who’s whiny gets an ax in the head” was a quotation that the illustrator took from the press at the time. 

The attack was sharply condemned by numerous cultural organizations, including the artists’ associations ULUS and ULUV, the Organization of the Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia NKSS and the PEN Club of Serbia. Attacks by right-wing extremist groups on theater makers, actors, artists and other cultural workers are common in Serbia. Mostly they are directed against any kind of activity dealing with the war crimes committed in the name of Serbia during the Yugoslav wars. 

Another dimension of hostility towards cultural workers became visible in the official statement of the Serbian Ministry of Culture (https://www.kultura.gov.rs/vest/sr/5318/saopstenje-ministarstva-kulture-i-informisanja-u-vezi-sa-izlozbom-u-umetnickoj-galeriji-stara-kapetanija-u-zemunu.php )

 in which it condemned the violent attack on the exhibition, while emphasizing that the exhibition should not have taken place in the first place. According to the Ministry of Culture, the works on display represent “a pathology and degeneration of consciousness and not any form of art”. The exhibition, it goes on to say, is “evil” and “belongs to the underworld of the human mind, just as the attackers on it belong to the underworld of hooligans”.

Large parts of the cultural public were appalled by the official reaction. They criticized the use of Nazi-like jargon and other discriminatory terms in the Ministry’s statement about the exhibited artwork and called for the protection of artistic freedom. 

The Ministry responded with a series of grave insults and accusations on its website against the artists’ organizations and individuals who had spoken out in the media, and threatened to file criminal charges in one case ( http://www.seecult.org/vest/protest-i-osuda-nasilja-na-izlozbi-ali-i-reagovanja-ministarstva-kulture ).

The rhetoric of the Ministry of Culture reminds in a disturbing way of the language used in hate campaigns. Blatant examples of such campaigns are conducted on the website “prismotra.” There, cultural workers, journalists, human rights activists and other committed individuals who do not fit into the platform’s right-wing extremist world view are pilloried. The unknown operators deliberately disseminate half-truths about the attitudes and activities of individuals, some of whom are barely known to the public, in order to publicly brand them as enemies of society.

– Rena Raedle, ArtLeaks

Photographs by Anita Buncic

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2020 11:56 AM

    Thank you so much for publishing this!!!

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