Persona Non Grata in Serbia
It’s been just over 24 hours since I posted a video of my interaction with a Serbian police officer on my personal YouTube account, and I’ve managed to arouse the ire of thousands of Serbs.
The video itself has reached over 280,000 views, close to 4 percent the population of Serbia, and it’s been featured on a dozen or so news sources throughout the Balkans.
Since that time, I must admit I’ve never had an inbox so full of death threats, personal condemnations, and declarations of shame. I’ve even had a dozen or so newly earned fans who have emailed my respective employers demanding I be fired.
Serbia’s Minister of Internal Affairs publicly issued a statement on the issue, and it’s certain to continue to make its way across the news wires.
One journalist said I’ve done a great job in uniting the Balkans against me. One friendly gentlemen even offered to “shoot me in the face” the next time I came to Serbia, and “handcuff me to the jail cell.” He joins the 300 or so people who demand I be arrested for “disrespecting” a police officer. I know this is not the sentiment of the Serbian people, so I don’t let it get under my skin.
To the broader point: how could one interaction on video escalate to such a level? It begins with a friendly drive through the Serbian countryside.
After visiting Liberland, the newly declared micro state between Serbia and Croatia, and spending a night in lovely Belgrade, our car was pulled over by the Serbian traffic police. I have been to Serbia many times and I very much love the country, but this was the first time I was approached by a police officer.
The officer stated I was speeding and demanded my passport and personal documents. He wrote down “150” on a piece of paper and then wrote “120” beside of it. I asked to see the proof of where I would have violated the speed limit, but he just said “passport, papers.”
Once I had given these up, he said “2500 dinars or 50 euros”. To anyone who knows the conversion rate, 50 euros is much higher than 2500 dinars. Hence why I believed it to be a bribe, as is the title of the video. After I asked again to have proof of the traffic violation, he took my documents and went back to his vehicle, where two other Serbian police officers were waiting.
This is when I began recording.
These are the moments on camera that the hundreds of thousands of people have seen until this point. The moment when the officer asks for 50 euros in cash was not caught on tape, but the next attempt was.
I relinquished all the money I had on me at the time: somewhere about 1500 dinars and 10 euros, and handed it to the officer. He counted it in his hand, and then wrote down a new figure on his piece of paper: “3500”. It was at this moment, when I said: “Why are you increasing the price?” Then he told me to sign the paper and I refused. I could not read the paper, and this police officer had just refused my mix of dinars and euros, after he had already asked for 50 euros cash and then 3500 dinars. And all of this occurred without getting any proof of the traffic violation.
After this point, he asks that I come with him to the car to finish the paperwork. In my own native country of Canada and my adopted country of the United States, where I only recently became a citizen, it is rare for drivers to get out of their cars during traffic stops. In fact, it is viewed as very threatening for the driver to exit the vehicle. Hence why I preferred to stay in the car to avoid trouble.
It seems this is the main issue which has upset so many people in Serbia. A country I have visited many times, I love dearly, and I hope to be able to revisit in the next few months to visit friends.
One must understand that my fellow passengers and myself were in a position of weakness, not strength. We did not speak the language and did not fully understand the intentions of the police officers on the scene. We made jokes out of angst, and we fully did not comprehend the situation we were being put in.
Because we saw so many other cars with foreign license plates being pulled over during the 90 minutes we were on the side of the road, it only led us to the conclusion that they were singling them out in order to receive fines in cash.
To me, being asked to pay either 2500 dinars or 50 euros made me believe the latter amount constituted a bribe. He was perfectly happy to accept 50 euros, but not a mix of euros and dinars once the official citation had been issued.
To make the situation all the more interesting, the reason we did not have enough dinars to pay the initial fine was because we stopped by the side of the road and purchased t-shirts with the crest and name of Serbia on it, as can be seen in the picture above.
I love Serbia very much and probably have too much fun each time I’m in the country. The people are jovial, endearing, and always willing to share their culture and their way of life. On the night before the video, I drank rakija and ate ćevapi, and I walked through the twinkling streets of Belgrade in awe of the beauty of the town and the resilience of its people. They’ve had so much thrown at them in the last few decades, but the people remain strong and always admirable.
Even though I’ve received a great amount of hate mail and death threats my way in the last 24 hours, it does not change my admiration for the Serbian people.
I too share their hatred of US imperialism and police brutality, and I have devoted many articles, videos, and investigations to uncovering this and more. I have dedicated my work to empower individuals against repressive states and regimes in countries throughout the world, not least of which is my own.