Just 24 hours after the Guardian's travel section published a piece lauding Belgrade's Savamala district as the new design and urban tourism hub of the Serbian capital, special anti-terrorist police forces raided clubs and performance spaces in the busy downtown district, reportedly aiming loaded rifles and frightening guests.
Mikser House, an artistic exhibition and performance space situated in an old industrial garage, described by the Guardian piece as “one of Savamala’s most prominent venues”, was one of the establishments raided on the night of Saturday, February 7. It issued a statement on their official Facebook page the next day, calling the police action “incomprehensible”:
Bilo je kao na filmu, upali su sa isukanim pendrecima i puskama na gotovs. U prostor u kome se odigravaju dečije predstave, koncerti klasične muzike, teatar. Blokirali su izlaz pred prestravljenim gostima, medju kojima je bilo i puno stranaca, i krenuli u pretres obezbedejanja. Naravno da nisu ništa našli… Koliko smo obavešteni, ceo kvart je doživeo isto što i mi.[…]
U susret februarskom Sajmu turizma u Beogradu, ne možemo, a da ne zapitamo predstavnike grada Beograda : Zašto šaljete antiterorističke jedinice u kulturnu i turističku zonu grada? Kako mislite da privučete i zadržite strane turiste ako im pretite oružjem? Zašto tako olako kriminalizujte ceo jedan kvart i sektor koji je ozbiljna, razvojna šansa Beograda?
It was like in a movie, they charged in with nightsticks out and rifles aimed. In a space where children's plays, classical music concerts, theater plays take place. They blocked the exit in front of terrified guests, among which there were many foreigners, and began frisking the security guards. Of course they didn't find anything… We been informed that the entire neighborhood lived through the same experience we did. […]
With the upcoming February Tourism Fair in Belgrade, we can't help but ask the representatives of the City of Belgrade: Why do you send anti-terrorist units into the cultural and tourist district of the city? How do you expect to attract and keep foreign tourists if you hold them at gunpoint? Why do you so carelessly criminalize an entire district that is a serious development opportunity for Belgrade?
The post alone garnered thousands of Facebook ‘likes’ and has been shared over 700 times, mostly by other Belgraders on Facebook asking the same questions. Some commenters have reported similar raids in other Serbian cities. On the evening in question, the venue was hosting a tango seminar, attended by both local and international guests.
The City of Belgrade has not responded or issued any statements after the incident or prior to the publishing of this post, although the Ministry of Interior released an official statement on Sunday, February 8, regarding nightclub control in Belgrade, saying:
U zajedničkoj akciji pripadnika Ministarstva unutrašnjih poslova i Ministarstva za rad, zapošljavanje, boračka i socijalna pitanja, sinoć je sprovedena pojačana kontrola beogradskih noćnih klubova i splavova.
Akcija je obuhvatila sedam objekata, sa akcentom na rad pripadnika obezbeđenja i utvrđivanja osnova njihovog angažovanja – da li su zaposleni u tom klubu, odnosno da li su angažovani sa ili bez ugovora.
Tokom akcije privedeno je 13 osoba, svi radnici obezbeđenja, kod kojih je pronađeno više predmeta pogodnih za nanošenje povreda, kao što su pendreci, metalne šipke i slično.
Takođe, protiv sedam osoba biće podnete prekršajne prijave od strane inspekcije rada.
Akcije kontrole noćnih klubova biće nastavljene i redovne, kako bi se postigla potpuna bezbednost i sigurnost građana.
In a joint operation by members of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy, last night bolstered control of Belgrade nightclubs and river boat clubs was implemented.
The operation included seven venues, with a focus on the work of members of security employees and verification of the basis of their employment — whether they are employees of the club, in other words whether they have been hired with or without [employment] contracts.
During the operation 13 individuals were detained, all security employees, who were found with items appropriate for inflicting injuries, such as batons, metal rods, and similar [items].
Also, minor offense charges will be filed against seven individuals by the labor inspection.
Operations to control nightclubs will be continued and regular, in order to achieve complete security and safety of citizens.
On Monday, February 9, after the official police statement, Mikser House added to their previous statement:
Danas, u ponedeljak, hladne glave i nakon mnogo informacija koje smo dobili tokom vikenda, naš zaključak je sledeći: Mikser house kao meta Žandarmerije nije bio usamljen u subotu, upadali su svuda po Savamali, ili skoro svuda, što je posebna tema za neki drugi tekst. Postoje podobni lokali, koji imaju zaštitu od vlasti i nepodobni, znamo. Pogađate kojoj grupi pripadamo. Zarad istine, saznali smo i da je u pitanju šira akcija policije, dakle ne samo u Savamali, ali da su ove specijalne operacije posebno vidljive u Savamali, kao centru noćnog života grada. Naravno, niko ne razume zašto je to moralo da se radi pod punom ratnom opremom, kao da je Savamala u Donjecku, a ne u Beogradu.
Today, on Monday, with a cool head and after much information received over the weekend, our conclusion is as follows: Mikser House was not alone as a target of the Gendarmerie [special tactical unit of the Serbian Police Department] on Saturday, they raided all over Savamala, or almost all over, which is a topic for another text. There are acceptable venues, that have the protection of [state] authorities, and unacceptable, we know this. Guess which group we belong to. For the sake of the truth, we learned that this was part of a wider police activity, therefore not exclusive to Savamala, but that these special operations are particularly visible in Savamala, as the center of nightlife in the city. Of course, no one understands why this had to be conducted in full battle gear, as if Savamala was in Donetsk [Ukraine] and not in Belgrade.
Representatives of Mikser House ended their second statement saying they would be filing complaints and asking to speak to officials regarding the incident:
Šalu na stranu, Mikser će se obratiti čelnicima Turističke organizacije Beograda, Srbije i Sekreterijatu za privredu i turizam grada Beograda sa molbom da utiču na MUP da je zaista pogubno da u prvorazrednom turističkom kvartu Beograda šalju specijalne jedinice da plaše i nas i strance koje smo, zajedno sa navedenim organizacijama, teškom mukom doveli u naš grad.
All joking aside, Mikser will be contacting the heads of the Tourism Board of Belgrade, of Serbia, and the Secretariat for Economy and Tourism of the City of Belgrade, with the request that they influence the Ministry of Interior in [explaining] that it is truly detrimental to send special forces into a first-class tourist district of Belgrade to frighten us and foreigners that we, together with the mentioned organizations, worked hard to bring here.