As The Onion repeatedly reminds us, most people most of the time think of the United States as the only place where school shootings and other mass shootings regularly take place. So when two such shootings happened in Serbia in one week, people in both countries understandably asked themselves: Was the United States, deep down, somehow like Serbia? Or was Serbia just now becoming like the United States?
In Serbia, this last question occasioned some soul-searching: What is happening in this society? I have been asking the same questions for the past 30 years as a sociologist researching the region. Serbia is deeply divided, traumatized by the violence of a recent past that different parts of the political culture simultaneously celebrate, condemn, and studiously ignore. It is governed by an elite that operates through informal networks, letting the public in only as much as necessary to maintain the appearance of legitimacy. Its institutions speak about security as incessantly as they foster insecurity. As trite as it may be to say that the violence that happened last week was inevitable, it would not be wrong to say that you could always sense the potential for it to happen.