Melancholic, Unequal and Devoid of Common Sense

In the course of just several days, two women were murdered in the Centres for Social Work in Belgrade. As usual, almost everyone had an opinion on who bore the brunt of guilt and why, and what was the real cause of the death that occurred in broad daylight in the Serbian capital.

Rumours ran aplenty: some said that one man was a returnee from war; it was then speculated that there were certain ties with local political strongmen; or, some said that the family was poor and thus poverty became a justified reason for the ‘micro-violence’ within our four walls; yet others ruminated about the guilt of the dead women themselves, since, yes, there are women who somehow choose unwisely, who in fact love violent men. The balance-sheet of all these sorry stories, in which gossip, sensationalism and truth become inextricable, are two dead women, one dead child, three children left without both caretakers. Not so long ago, there was a public crusade against education about gender-based violence in the schools and kindergartens, because all our families are, simply by being ‘ours’, normal. Perhaps it is time to re-think this normality. And then again, and again. Since families and individuals who compose the normal do not live outside of the society but are in fact fundamentally shaped by it.

A lot has been said about femicide lately. Not willing to call it by any other name, I want to concentrate on a phenomenon intertwined with this act that feeds the ‘black chronicles’ (articles on murders in the yellow press), side by side with continuous appeals to spoiled Serbian women to give birth and fight the shrinking population –the so-called white plague. What is at stake here is the omnipresent violence which permeates our lives and informs our worldviews, our feelings, our everyday actions on public transport, on the streets, in waiting rooms, in schools and maternity wards. Everywhere.

The first form of violence we have to start talking about is war-related. Serbia participated in wars of horrific proportions. A number of men who still live in this country were in the police, military or paramilitary forces – because they wanted to, or because they had to – they killed, or were present at the scenes of killings, torture, rape and plunder. Upon their return to Serbia, i.e. the state which was never officially engaged in war (except during the NATO bombings in 1999), they remained publicly non-existent as men who survived the war. However, the fact that the laws of this state have not recognized this violence, that the Serbian public had almost unanimously accepted to conceal its most public secret, that the failed ‘revolution’ of the 5th October 2000 produced a social consensus on the end of the wars, as if they actually never happened – that fact cannot diminish the violence that spills fractally through the lives of those who committed it, and the lives of those who were close to them, then and/or much later. PTSP is here, and the trauma has never been recognized, never acknowledged.

The second form of violence we are living in is the violence of rising structural inequality. This used to be a country in which the generations grew and lived in the spirit of equality and with the promise of prosperity. Today, this is a country in which the gap between the extremely and the relatively poor shrinks day by day, while the gap between this large and growing group and the extremely rich widens enormously. Serbia is now a country in which some can fly over to Cuba, while others do not have a mere sum of 300 Dinars to take a bus from their village to the near-by town to collect their meagre pension. Serbia is now a country in which only the amount of money one possesses defines the type of care available in the hospital, the type of treatment during childbirth, the conduct in the schools. This, of course, does not mean that there are no honourable and good-hearted women and men around. However, structural inequality impacts on our affects, on our sense of rectitude, on our notions of what is allowed, desirable and, in the last instance, possible.

The third form of violence, entwined with the previous two, is that of appearances, violence against common sense. We constantly hear that it never has been better for us, that our institutions function better than ever, that the ‘world’ never took so much liking of us, that ‘European values’ have never been as widely adopted as they are now. But, whatever we hear, whatever we are told, has never been more grossly disproportionate to what we actually see and experience. Our common sense is turned inside-out, like a glove: it is the starving workers on strike who are to blame because they produce bad appearances for the investors, those almost magical creatures of the contemporary Serbian politics; it is women who made bad choices who are to blame for their death in view of the beautiful laws that we have and wonderful institution that enact them; all those who lost their lives, real or symbolic, are guilty – those not put by us in the mass-graves, those who simply found themselves there.

Serbia is a country where violence is constantly on the rise. ‘Panic tasters’ in the Centres for Social Work – an immediate measure recommended by UN Women – are certainly a good solution, since they may prevent the proliferation of lost lives. However, the problems this society faces, the problems that hover like spectres of the living dead, are so thorough, broad and deep that a gigantic panic taster would not suffice. In that sense, any future political force in this country will have to wrestle with the residue of a long-lasting state of exception that structurally shapes us as violators – melancholic, unequal and devoid of common sense.

First published in Serbian at


Adriana Zaharijević

Dr. Adriana Zaharijević is a Research Associate at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory at the University of Belgrade, and Assistant Proffesor at the University of Novi Sad. HerShe writes about politics and history, women and politics, and social and political philosophy.

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