"Evil is evil and we should say that it is evil"

Interview with Đorđo Žujović
Đorđo Žujović
Đorđo Žujović after throwing paint on the mural © Foto: Telegraf

As a long-time prominent member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the NGO Regional, which deals with human rights and the rule of law, Đorđo Žujović has worked countless times on joint projects with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. He became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Serbia this year, and we had this short conversation with him because of an act of the civic courage which he has demonstrate numerous times before: last week he threw paint (lime) on a mural dedicated to convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić, and so symbolically became the conscience of democratic European Serbia.

 "Evil is evil and we should say that it is evil" is the statement you gave to a TV station after you poured lime on the  Ratko Mladić mural, and in the meantime you have been forced to leave the country for security reasons – would you repeat the act of the other day?     

First, I want to thank you for the opportunity to discuss these events openly and in the way they should be discussed. That’s right, evil is evil and I don't see any other way to say it. Ratko Mladić is a criminal, suspect, accused, convicted. There are no calculations with these things, nor the possibility of diminishing the guilt and responsibility. Serbia is not a country of criminals, it is not a country of murderers, and I will not allow a group of thugs to be the pattern set for younger generations to follow. I am sad to see it happening, but I still know that there are more normal people in this country and that just because they are silent today does not mean that they will not speak tomorrow. Of course I would do the same tomorrow; that goes without saying. I didn’t want the pack to get into a situation where they could judge me as they intended, I won’t allow them to harm me and try to humiliate me. In their hooligan world, I am today the enemy on whom they wish evil because I have shown not only myself, but also others, that we have no fear of them and that they will not destroy our lives, or at least we will not watch it calmly. This struggle will last a long time.

The mural was painted at the end of July this year, and its creators are allegedly members of right-wing organisations. Only now, in November, is the mural being covered by the media – what happened in between? More than three months without reactions, how did that come about?

I consider this a mistake on all our parts, and a kind of civil omission. As far as I can see, that ominous mural barely disturbed Vračar’s citizens. Unfortunately, he disturbed the region, our neighbours, but also especially the parts of Serbia where the predominantly Bosniak population lives. And of course it's not a matter of one mural, this is about its creators’ message, which in time should become something not to be discussed, and that is that Ratko Mladić is a hero. We must not allow that, because of the past, the present, the future. You can keep some picture on the wall, all right. Violent groups can be organised that threaten others into expressing their views. No problem, we will fight it. But what about the truth about Srebrenica?

 In your opinion, who is behind this and can the situation be classified as a "distraction of the public" from something that should be important to them, such as changes in the Law on the Conduct of Referendums, and the like?

I have seen those discouraging attitudes: since it doesn't matter who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, let's force people to talk about it, so that we don't talk about more important things. Quite a strange statement of the role of the public, only I do not see that one excludes the other. But on the other hand, I know very well where the problem is. You have a good part of society, people who view themselves a certain way, are convinced of their progressiveness, and yet you could not distinguish their views on the recent past from those of any nationalist. That's what this is about. You have political elites who are persistently engaged in politics without having a single political and value position. The coordinates of daily politics in Serbia are set incorrectly, and these are topics for me where everyone can be easily classified. Since we are not talking about any party struggles here, these are tests of humanity and normality. These are red lines in decency, as in the case of the petition for the release of the murderers of Zoran Đinđić. In both cases you unfortunately have silence from those who should be very loud, and the absence of any concrete action. These are the ones who see some kind of conspiracy in everything, because the most important consideration today is whether an individual will win power or lose it. Not in my world.

According to the media, the Inspectorate of the Belgrade municipality of Vračar gave a decision on 20 September, under which the tenants were ordered to remove the mural within two days of receiving the decision. The tenants are not responsible for creating the mural, they are afraid to remove it, they are asking for help and support – who do you think should order and remove the mural?

The mural must and will be removed. One way or another that will be the result. I understand the fears of the tenants and their fear of removing it, as they are in the place which the bullies patrol every day. I don't blame them for anything, quite the contrary. I’m not interested in legal procedures, that is, who should order me to carry out such an act, I rely on the victory of common sense and the awareness of how much such things and messages harm our country in the first place. I repeat once again, that mural will be removed, but some ten more will spring up tomorrow. All right, that's what those who see in this a struggle for the alleged interests of the Serbian people think. They burned it onto the walls of Vračar, let them be. We have to talk about Ratko Mladić, his act, his imperishable shame and the truth that cannot and will not bypass us. We have to improve relations in the region, so as to maintain peace, and not allow those who would immediately go to war to rise to the surface, just to recalculate once more how many benefits it would bring them – financial, of course. That is why this mural sends the wrong message. Because of the character who was painted, his actions or misdoings, and because such murals in this city do not give peace to others. Belgrade is a cosmopolitan, open city, a city of normal people. They, not the loud hooligans, are the majority.

How can that silent majority among the citizens of Serbia be encouraged not only to express the wish, but also ultimately to demand that their state unconditionally adhere to its laws and the international obligations that it has accepted?

I think the bullies were a little surprised by the response they got. They are used to winning their imaginary battles and any resistance disturbs them. They are used to playing on human fears, but as soon anyone answers back, they somehow deviate. The majority of people in this country are not allies of the bullies, they are just normal people doing their jobs, burdened by everyday life and the struggle for survival. Such people should not be tested, nor should their current silence be considered a weakness. There is probably no formula by which they can be encouraged, but every day someone does something that shows that these people are all around and will not put up with the images that their environment throws up. Despite the fact that I am afraid of the years ahead, I am also optimistic that people will avoid all the traps and will not step once more into something that could take us back to hell. The fact is that another conflict could be fatal for our country, and there would definitely be no coming back from that.