by Dragan Todorovic
PISSING AND PAINTING: On the road to Loznica, nature, villages and small towns. Half way between Valjevo and Loznica, the town of Osecina. At the train station, there is a bar, with a toilet. A note is pinned to the toilet door: "Whomever pisses on the wall will pay for the painting". Definitely Serbia. Details in Loznica are very Serbian.
As we had found out (this is also the reason for our visit) on July 22 people in black uniforms and black balaclavas, armed according to regulations, visited cafes "Belami" in Trsic, "Pajin Konak" in Kozjak, and "Maestral" in Loznica and in all of them they beat up everyone who moved or dared utter a sound, starting with owners of these cafes. The visitors had no insignia on their uniforms and did not say a word.
Police raids in restaurants in Loznica and the surrounding settlements started a year ago. Policemen in civilian clothing and standard uniforms would enter, say why they had come, dish out a few slaps and leave. And thus every weekend. As Police shows up, music is turned down, lights turned up, both the owners and guests follow the Pavlovian reflex. The raids have become like warm water. Then, on May 25 the men in black showed up, together with masks and weapons. After dusk they headed down the main street, right down the middle, jumping over each other, and offering cover to each other, simulating attack and defense. They scared the youth on the street, and burst into three cafes in the center with the announcement "this is a police raid". They proceeded to the cafe "Stefani" on the detour towards Sabac where in front of the guests they beat up the owner. The owner, as a man who is close to the authorities, and here everyone who owns anything is either close to the authorities or the criminals who are close to the authorities, asked "what is wrong with you people?" and got beaten up. The same night the men in black were snatching boat owners who were suspected of smuggling, breaking into houses of suspected smugglers, all the way to Mali Zvornik. And they were beating people up. They also said that those who continued to carry people over the Drina would repeatedly be beaten up. Some of them were taken to the Police station with swellings, broken ribs and kicked out teeth. But, apparently they understood the seriousness of the situation and kept quiet.
And raids, the standard ones, to which people had been accustomed, continued. The weekend before last came and with it the men in black. This time they did not say "this is a raid", only entered premises and beat up people. First in "Belami" where they asked the owner whether he had a gun; when he said he didn't, they asked why he didn't and beat him up anyway. Then, according to witnesses, they dropped by "Pajin Konak" where they beat up two Policemen from Loznica in civilian who got up to greet their colleagues. The next on the list was "Maestral", a prestigious, well equipped and well supplied cafe in the center of Loznica frequented by children of the wealthy locals. What happened there?
WALL TO WALL: First witness. It was after midnight, about 1:20am. The tables were full, both inside and in front of the café. Four masked men, in black uniforms, black balaclavas, and heckler guns in their hands, came in. They ordered that the music be turned down, hands placed on tables, and heads lowered. One guest, sitting at the bar was downing a bear at that time, and he was slapped. They ordered that men get out, and women stay inside. One of them stood at the entrance with a pointed gun, while there were another ten outside. They lined up the men in a dark alley between the café and another building. The men were lined up in two rows. They were subjected to a perfunctory search. The men in black asked for the owner of the café and he stepped out of the lineup. They told him to pull his hands out of the pockets, immediately threw him on the ground and proceeded to beat him. And they kicked and hit, and kicked and hit... Then they dragged him to the toilet, washed him, and continued to beat him. Finally, the washbasin cracked. All the others were standing outside, next to the wall, no one dared as much as move. One of them did move and was immediately hit with a rifle butt in the head. When they came in, they did not say who they were, nor what they wanted. They did not even asked for identification cards. The search was perfunctory. It seamed that the guys in black were there to beat people up. When they finished, and they finished quickly, they got into police jeeps and civilian cars and left down the blocked street. Everyone stayed behind; they were speechless; they were shaking. That was horrifying. The owner, Dragan Zeljic, and the guest who was hurt were taken to the hospital; in the hospital they told them that their injuries were light. And they looked terrible: their lips were swollen, faces covered with blood and bruises; they were hit by rifle butts, fists and feet...
Second witness. Saturday night, a good occasion for celebration and merrymaking. The evening went well, the atmosphere was pleasant. At about 1:15am, an armed group, all dressed in black and armed to the teeth, without visible insignia indicating who they were, burst inside. Terrible. A terrible break-in. He can't believe that such things happen anywhere else in the world. He does not understand. He is neither a thief, nor a bum. He is a loyal citizen. He does understand that the border is near and the surroundings are dangerous, the situation is difficult... But this, what is this? The guests thought that that was a robbery. The attackers didn't say anything and immediately started to hit people.
He was standing next to the bar when the attackers burst in. The music was turned down, lights turned up. One of the guests was drinking beer. They told him to put the bottle down, then hit him, carried him behind the bar and continued to beat him. They ordered men to get out and women to stay inside. Hands were to be put on the tables and heads lowered between legs. Half of the guests pissed in their pants. The attackers were hitting anyone who would turn around or utter anything. The men were lined up next to the wall in the alley next to the café and searched. No one had anything illegal on him. One of the men turned around and was hit with a rifle butt on the head. They ordered him to get up. They did not have badges, or any other insignia, only some sort of a sign on their shoulders. Later he heard that they were from the Special Antiterrorist Unit (SAJ). They asked who the owner was. He was standing next to the witness. They ordered him to pull his hands out of the pockets. He pulled them out, put them on his back and asked if that was fine with them. As soon as he said that, he was hit with a rifle butt in the head. He fell on the ground and they continued to kick him. His sister started to scream. It was creepy, a horrific situation. They lifted Zeljic and carried him into the toilet. They demanded identification cards. Some men did not have identification cards, but nothing happened to them. Obviously they were there to beat people up. According to Zeljic, they threw him from one wall to another in the small toilet, forced him to wash himself and then continued to hit him. When they finally took him out he was covered with blood, from his head to his toes. Then they took to the bathroom the guy who turned around in the line up. And then they left. Everyone was in shock, no one went away. No one could believe what they had just gone through. They went to the Police, reported the attack. The policeman on duty wrote everything down. He told them that he knew who the attackers were and what they were doing but that nothing could be done against them. The men explained that that was an attack by masked individuals that no one could tell whether they were police or terrorists. The Police promised to investigate. The injured were taken to the hospital; they passed through all the existing departments and collected the documentation. So far they are not doing anything and are waiting for a response from the Police, to see who is guilty, and whom to file charges against. They are waiting to see what the Police will say, there are some promises from the City Hall...
MOTHER'S ROLE: Apparently, the reactions immediately after the incident were very strong. The locals claim that the key reaction came from a mother, the mother of the owner of the café, Dragan Zeljic. The mother, as an active Socialist, immediately went to the Police station, and then to the City Hall to as a mother line comrades up and ask what they were doing to the children. Supposedly, she was promised that the incident would be resolved, but was also told that the beaten up side should keep low lest the whole incident get a political connotations and, God forbid, allow the enemy in our ranks to try to spread confusion in those ranks.
By the way, several days after the incident, the beaten up owner, in a statement for Radio Free Europe identified among the masked attackers Slavisa Mitrovic, a police lieutenant and the deputy commander of the intervention unit in Loznica. He stated for Blic that he had informed the mayor about the whole incident; the mayor promised to talk to the Police chief, but the results of all that were not known. Zeljic also announced that he would file charges against unidentified attackers. He said that and went to the seaside. This journalist has the impression that everything will "take a vacation", and in the worst case will result with a reprimand for the named lieutenant Mitrovic. Because, they say, regardless of how much Loznica represents a reflection of the future of the rest of Serbia, the party does not need all this just before the elections. A confirmation for such a resolution can be found in the reserved attitude of the opposition. The opposition, to say the least, is being neutral, since the action was not carried out against its supporters. As one of the opposition officials told us, they condemn all violence, but in the concrete case are not sure whether the beaten up individuals deserved to be beaten up or not. He mentioned criminal environment as an argument for his neutral attitude, as well as that all the owners of cafes are "connected" and that their clients live well "in this situation" and it can be expected that they will vote "properly". The men in black are violent, but at least they are not choosy about their victims, and for now they are mostly beating "their supporters".
And what do the City Hall officials have to say about all this? Mayor Milorad Stepanovic is on a vacation, deputy mayor Novica Dimitrijevic is not, but is extremely busy. What about the Police? The Police station is on the top of a hill. Inside, four policemen at the reception desk. We introduce ourselves, show identification papers, and wait as ordered. The policeman on duty establishes, via a secretary, contact with Police Chief Kovacevic. He wants to know why we are looking for the Chief. We tell him. An answer can be provided only by the Ministry, states the Chief. Should we believe him?