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Cemetery Desecration and “Hate” Graffiti

On a number of occasions between late 2003 and mid-2005, perpetrators engaged in various acts of vandalism expressing ethnic or religious hatred. Most often they painted hostile graffiti and desecrated cemeteries. In a majority of cases, the police failed to identify the perpetrators.

Notable incidents in which the police did not identify the perpetrators include:

  • Backi Monostor: On November 7, 2003, and the night of June 5 or in the early hours of June 6, 2004, unknown persons damaged the Catholic cemetery in the mainly Croat-populated Backi Monostor. On November 7, twenty-two tombstones were knocked down, and nineteen more on June 6. The perpetrators have not been identified, but ethnic Croat youths may have been responsible for the November 2003 incident.111 

  • Djurdjevo:  on an unspecified date during February or March, 2004, unknown perpetrators painted graffiti reading “national minorities – out!” at the hamburger kiosk in the center of the village.

  • Coka: in mid-March 2004, unknown perpetrators painted the slogan “Get out of Serbia!” and Serbian ultra-nationalistic acronym “SSSS” on the façade of a school in the town.112

  • Sombor: late on July 2 or in the early hours of July 3, 2004, unknown perpetrators knocked down eighteen tombstones at the Catholic cemetery. Most of the tombstones belonged to Croats, but there were also those commemorating Hungarians and Germans.113

  • Novi Sad: on July 15, 2004, unknown perpetrators wrote the words “Hey Hungarians, alright, a deep hole is awaiting you” on the concrete fence of a Hungarian-owned house in the Novi Sad neighborhood of Teleb.114

  • Negotin: on March 24, 2005, unknown persons scribbled anti-Semitic graffiti on the façades of various buildings in Negotin, in eastern Serbia. Some messages described equality among races as “a Jewish trap”; others contained Nazi swastikas next to crossed out Jewish Stars of David.115 

  • Nis: on June 11, numerous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim graffiti appeared on the walls of several public building, including the town’s synagogue. The graffiti glorified the July 1995 genocide against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, requested expulsion of “Turks” (Muslims) from Serbia, and advocated death for the “servants of Zionism.”116

  • Belgrade: in early July 2005, unknown perpetrators scribbled graffiti at billboards commemorating the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The graffiti expressed approval of the massacre of the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995. Only four of the twenty-eight posters remained undamaged. The text of one graffito was “Knife, wire, Srebrenica.”117  The slogan rhymes in Serbian (Noz, zica, Srebrenica) and refers to the well-established fact that the hands of a number of Muslim victims were tied with wire prior to their execution.

    Belgrade, March 22, 2005: Minor Punishment in Misdemeanor Proceedings

    In the early morning of March 22, 2005, anti-Semitic posters and graffiti appeared at numerous locations in Belgrade. At the entrance to the Jewish cemetery, the graffiti demanded that “Jewish parasites” be expelled from Serbia and protested “the Jewish yoke” allegedly imposed upon Serbia.  The posters that covered walls in the center of Belgrade contained invectives against the independent television and radio station “B92,” with the name of the station inscribed within the drawing of Star of David. The messages daubed on the walls in the neighborhoods hosting the offices of the leading human rights groups in Serbia – the Humanitarian Law Center and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia – blamed the heads of these organizations for being “Jewish pawns” and one for being an “obedient servant of the Jewish world order.”118

    The police arrested three suspects on the same day.119 The three ranged between nineteen and twenty-one years of age. In spite of their evident intent to incite to ethnic and religious hatred, the three adults were charged only with a misdemeanor, for “indecent, impudent, and ruthless behavior” (article 12(1) of the Misdemeanors Act). The Belgrade misdemeanor judge sentenced each of the accused on March 23, 2004, to ten days imprisonment.120   

    Stara Pazova, May 29/30, 2004: A Rare Prosecution for Incitement

    On the night of May 29 or in the early hours of May 30, 2004, three minors and one eighteen-year old painted graffiti with hate messages on façades of two Slovak houses, two churches belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Nazarenes, and on a van owned by an ethnic Croat. The perpetrators wrote “A Sect!” and “German Ustashas!” and painted Nazi swastikas and stylized “U” letters – the latter symbol denoting Ustasha, the Croatian allies of the Nazis in the World War II.121 The police reacted, in the words of a prominent political representative of Stara Pazova Slovaks, “amazingly fast and efficient[ly],”122 by arresting the perpetrators and resolving the case.

    On September 28, 2004, the prosecutor in the nearby Sremska Mitrovica charged the eighteen-year-old suspect with incitement to ethnic and religious hatred (contrary article 134 of the Basic Penal Code). The prosecutor also initiated an investigation against the three minors for the same crime.123 On December 27, the district court in Sremska Mitrovica acquitted the adult defendant, because the court considered the defendant’s role in the incident as limited to driving the car, while other persons painted the graffiti.124 As of June 2005, separate proceedings for violation of article 134 against the minors were still ongoing.125

    The approach of the prosecutor in the Stara Pazova case should be illustrative for other courts in Vojvodina who deal with cases with apparent ethnic or religious motivation. Rather than dismissing the incident as young persons’ prank, the prosecutor considered it an offense capable of generating ethnic and religious violence in a multiethnic area.126 The messages and the symbols written on the façades clearly pointed at the requisite intent for the offense of incitement to ethnic and religious hatred. Finally, the prosecutor invoked article 134 in spite of the fact that two of the four perpetrators are of the same ethnicity – Slovak and Croat – as the groups targeted.127 As the prosecutor told Human Rights Watch, “It is our stance that with facts like these we should charge the perpetrators with incitement to hatred, and it is for the court to make the final decision.” Too often prosecutorial offices have adopted an unnecessarily restrictive approach to cases where incitement is apparent and opted for ordinary criminal charges.

    [111] According to the president of the local executive board, one Croatian student told her parents, on the day before the November 2003 incident, that her friends were to party in a house near the cemetery, and that “there will be some problems.” Human Rights Watch interview with Zoran Miller, president of Backi Monostor Local Community.

    [112] M.M., “Ponavljaju se provokacije u Coki (“Repeated Provocations in Coka”), Dnevnik (Novi Sad), March 18, 2004.

    [113] Human Rights Watch interview with Josip Pekanovic, parish priest in Sombor, Sombor, July 13, 2004.

    [114] Human Rights Watch interview with Ferenc Pap, member of Novi Sad City Council and president of the Association for Protection of Historic Monuments “Nagy Sandor,” Novi Sad, July 22, 2004.

    [115] “Antisemitizam se siri” (“Anti-Semitism is Spreading”), B92 web site, March 24, 2005 [online], (retrieved July 6, 2005).

    [116] Zorica Miladinovic, “Primitivizam, a ne patriotizam” (“Primitivism, Not Patriotism”), Danas (Belgrade), June 14, 2005.

    [117] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Andrej Nosov, July 10, 2005. Nosov is the director of the nongovernmental organization Youth Initiative, which erected the billboards in Belgrade. Other messages desecrating the posters contained text such as “There Will Be A Repetition,” and “Ratko Mladic” (former Bosnian Serb Army commander, indicted at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as the principal architect of the genocide).

    [118] “Antisemitske parole protiv B92” (“Anti-Semitic Slogans Against B92”), B92 web site, March 22, 2005 [online], index.php?yyyy=2005&mm=03&dd=22&nav_id=164838&nav_category=12 (retrieved July 6, 2005).

    [119] “Vlast ocekivala antisemitski napad” (“Government Expected Anti-Semitic Attack”), B92 web site, March 23, 2005 [online], (retrieved July 6, 2005).

    [120] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with the Secretary of the Belgrade Agency for Misdemeanors, June 2, 2005.

    [121] District Public Prosecutor in Sremska Mitrovica, Memorandum to the National Council of the Slovak National Minority in Serbia and Montenegro, November 19, 2004 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

    [122] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Zlatusa Totova, then-president of the Executive Council of Stara Pazova Municipal Assembly, July 28, 2004.

    [123] District Public Prosecutor in Sremska Mitrovica, Memorandum to the National Council of the Slovak National Minority in Serbia and Montenegro, November 19, 2004 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

    [124] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ratko Galecic, District Public Prosecutor in Sremska Mitrovica, June 17, 2005. The court’s reasoning is questionable, because the driver was evidently aware of the acts by his younger friends, and thus acted as a co-perpetrator, or aider and abettor.

    [125] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ratko Galecic, June 17, 2005.

    [126] Ibid. About 7,000 Slovaks live in Stara Pazova. Human Rights Watch interview with Jovan Tisma, then-president of Stara Pazova Municipal Assembly, July 28, 2004. The town population is 18,628. See official website of the Stara Pazova municipality, at

    [127] Human Rights Watch interview with Ratko Galecic, District Public Prosecutor in Sremska Mitrovica, January 24, 2005. The Slovak offender, the only adult among the perpetrators, belongs to “skinheads,” groups of young people who shave their heads and often engage in white-supremacist activities. Human Rights Watch interview with Branislav Dragas, director of Radio Stara Pazova, July 28, 2004.

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