Kosovo, Gypsy Curse or PTSD: What Really Triggered Serbia's Massacre?

When Ljubisa Bogdanovic, 60, killed 13 of his relatives and neighbors as they slept in the Serbian village of Velika Ivanca in the early hours of Tuesday, April 9, he committed an act that horrified his nation and the world.

Why would this man, a veteran of the 1991-1992 Serbia-Croatia war, kill members of his family, one of them a two-year-old child? What sparked his murderous rampage? Was it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ? Was it Serbians' continued frustration over Kosovo ? Or was it a 70-year-old Gypsy curse?

According to family legend during World War II Bogdanovic's grandmother unfairly accused a young Gypsy man of stealing. The Germans caught him, killed him on the spot, and sent for his mother to take away her son's body. While the broken-hearted mother was crying over her son's body she cursed Bogdanovic's grandmother saying "May God give madness to all of your family." Today, neighbors recall that Bogdanovic's grandmother later committed suicide by jumping into a well and that his father hanged himself.

In Serbia it is often still easier to believe in legend than in mental disability. Superstitions cannot be explained which provides an instant excuse for human frailty and a ready way to evade responsibility. PTSD is not a superstition: it is a tragic Serbian reality.

The Serbian Medical Military Academy says about 4000 people in Serbia have PTSD - 10 percent of the 400.000 Serbs who served in the 1991-1999 conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. But Institute of Public Health "Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut" says an absurdly small number of people sought help for PTSD symptoms in Serbian hospitals. In 2008-2010 only 163 people were being treated for PTSD, about 4 percent of the estimated total number affected. And many of these patients appear to have been diagnosed with PTSD only after being hospitalized for other conditions.

However current Serbian Health Minister Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, a loyal supporter of Slobodan Milosevic and professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of Kragujevac, rejects the theory of military psychologists that Bogdanovic was affected by PTSD.

She said: "It cannot be the immediate cause. Traumas of war and the consequences of trauma in post-traumatic stress disorder manifest themselves after a few days to a few weeks from the moment of trauma."

It seems Milosevic's most loyal supporters, now part of the so called "democratic Serbian forces," are trying to turn their heads away from PSTD as the most tragic consequence their rule in the 1990s.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ivica Dacic blames the "vast amount of weapons in post-war surroundings". Indeed, Serbia is an armed camp. Police sources estimate the country of 7 million inhabitants has 1,180,000 weapons of which 1,140,000 are in the hands of ordinary citizens. One in 10 Serbian citizens own a weapon - legally - without any obligation to provide medical evidence that he is mentally fit.

The mass murderer of Velika Ivanca, lost his job last year after years of working for a Slovenian company. He is not the only Balkan veteran on the "list of forgotten and abandoned." Neighbors describe him as a quiet, honest, nondescript man. Everyone is shocked. No one knows what was in his mind. He just suddenly snapped and shot dead 13 people. In difficult times people withdraw into themselves, becoming apathetic, silent, anxious and depressed. And it is a growing problem.

The murders were committed at a time of deep national frustration over a final resolution in Kosovo. Bogdanovic was just one of millions of Serbs who repeatedly face the ghosts of the past.

On April 8 Serbia rejected a European Union-brokered deal for reconciliation with its former province of Kosovo. The latest Brussels negotiations sharpened Serbian national memories of the Rambouillet talks in 1999 when Slobodan Milosevic rejected all proposals for peace in Kosovo, which led to the NATO air war against Serbia.The three months of hell that Serbs endured while NATO bombed their country is imprinted forever in their minds.

The politicians who supported Milosevic in that self-suicidal political act have now, 15 years later, introduced Serbs to the political nightmare of negotiations with Kosovo and the EU. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his deputy Aleksandar Vucic are today pro-European leaders. But in the Rambouillet era they were extreme politicians following the most militant doctrine.

The Milosevic-style political vocabulary employed by Vucic also worsens the Serbs' sense of insecurity. Vucic deceitfully reminds them that their country is between the "hammer and the anvil" and that none of the options is good for Serbia.

With a million unemployed citizens - one in seven people - and the burden of 20 years of political and economical agony to deal with, Serbia is often unable to reason rationally. Many Serbs are not truly interested in the political fate of Kosovo, instead seeing themselves as hostages of Kosovo's drama for decades. It is arguable that these new pressures provoke old wounds and revive dormant traumas.

Unfortunately modern Serbian society is more worried about tennis star Novak Djokovic's injured ankle than the army of PTSD time-bombs in the community. It is final time for the bloody trio from Milosevic's era - Dacic, Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi - to close the circle of evil started in Kosovo in June 1989. If nothing else, that might help mediate the bad memories which wake madness hidden in the human soul and, like lava, suddenly and without warning, destroys everything in sight.