As we enter one more holiday season, and as you head out to celebrate with people you most care about - your friends and family - we appeal to you to:
CELEBRATE WITH YOUR HEART, NOT YOUR GUN!
Consider, do you really want to be THAT guy who spoils the party?
Even though celebratory shooting is illegal throughout the Western Balkans, and the use of pyrotechnics is forbidden or restricted in a number of jurisdictions, the use of firearms and pyrotechnics in times of celebration is a common occurrence in the region.
At the same time, we cannot deny the fact that both firearms and pyrotechnics are highly dangerous. We know this because we witness a number of deaths, injuries, property damages and arrests linked to celebratory shootings every year.
So, if you are getting ready for this year’s celebration with a nonchalant attitude thinking, ‘oh, nothing is going to happen’ - consider some of the things that DID HAPPEN to someone who thought the same as you.
- A woman was accidentally shot in the head and killed in her own family home during a celebration near Jagodina, Serbia.
- Two men attended a celebration for the birth of a child in Zmajevo, Serbia. It appears that one of them shot into the air, hitting a high-voltage power cord, which then fell on the ground and killed both men.
- In Skopje, North Macedonia, a 36-year-old woman was shot by a stray bullet on 31 December while at home, whereas in Kosovo* on 1 January a woman was shot by a stray bullet as she stood on her balcony during the New Year’s celebration.
- In Foča, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a 65-year-old man was shot by a stray bullet on 6 January, as he was making ‘rakija’ in his yard.
- In Zvornik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a 78-year-old man accidentally shot and injured a 22-year-old man during a holiday celebration.
- In Nikšić, Montenegro, a 56-year-old man was arrested after it was determined that he had accidentally shot and injured a woman at a celebration.
- In Guncati, Serbia, as he was bringing a ‘badnjak’ into the house on Orthodox Christmas morning, a man shot in celebration. His bullet ricocheted hitting and injuring two people.
If you think setting off firecrackers and pyrotechnics is harmless child’s play, think again.
- In early 2021, in Pučile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, two boys were wounded after playing with firecrackers; one of them was hospitalized with serious hand injuries.
- A 10-year-old girl’s life was endangered when a guest at a family celebration in Čačak, Serbia, detonated an explosive device. The girl was transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries to her chest cavity.
Pyrotechnics are a type of explosives and inherently should be handled with utmost caution. Unfortunately, even in places where they are legal, pyrotechnics are often purchased on the street from unregulated sources – street sellers. That also means that the quality of these explosive contraptions, and the ways in which they are kept, are also unregulated. Do you really want to risk your safety, or even worse, that of someone you love, by using them?
Injuries and deaths will most certainly be reported. But IMAGINE how many ‘celebratory’ bullets miss us thanks to nothing but pure luck. These are the bullets we seldom hear about, but they are just as real.
- On 9 January in Prnjavor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a man’s car was hit by a stray bullet suspected to be linked to a celebratory shooting. The bullet pierced the car windows hitting the backseat of the car where three of his kids had been seated only a few minutes before.
That bullets ‘rain’ all around us during the holiday season can also be seen in reports of property damage. In Kosovo, where tracking of such events is encouraged by the law enforcement, on 1 January 2021 alone at least 8 people reported their cars or houses being hit and damaged by celebratory fire.
If you think celebrating with a firearm is generally accepted and that those who do it bear no consequences, consider this. Throughout the region, people are arrested for celebratory shooting, including when there are no injuries or property damage involved. SEESAC’s Armed Violence Monitoring Platform documents many such arrests in every jurisdiction. Here are only a few from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo. Then the party is over.
More recently, perpetrators have posted their illegal activities on social media, and as a result, have been identified, tracked and detained by law enforcement using those very platforms.
- In Bogovinje, North Macedonia, a 39-year-old man was arrested after posting a video on social media showing him teaching a small boy how to shoot from a pistol.
Three men were arrested for shooting during a family celebration and posting videos about it on social media, in Malishevë/Mališevo, Kosovo.
Finally, before you ‘add’ to the celebratory atmosphere by firing a few rounds into the air, bringing a gun into someone’s home or establishment, or setting some pyrotechnics off, consider how people around you might feel. After all, arrests happen because someone feels unsafe and reports celebratory shooting to the authorities. In a recent survey, thousands of people across the region shared their attitudes about security, including about firearms. This is what they said:
- In Albania – 95% of respondents would not consider owning a gun, and 55% say they feel threatened/very threatened by illegal possession and misuse of weapons in their neighbourhoods, including for celebratory shooting.
- In Bosnia and Herzegovina – 92% of respondents would not consider owning a gun, and 50% say they feel threatened/very threatened by illegal possession and misuse of weapons in their neighbourhoods, including for celebratory shooting.
- In Montenegro – 90% of respondents would not own a gun, and 22% say they feel threatened/very threatened by illegal possession and misuse of weapons in their neighbourhoods, including for celebratory shooting.
- In North Macedonia – 82% of respondents would not own a gun, and 55% say they feel threatened/very threatened by illegal possession and misuse of weapons in their neighbourhoods, including for celebratory shooting.
- In Serbia - 91% of respondents would not own a gun, and 39% say they feel threatened/very threatened by illegal possession and misuse of weapons in their neighbourhoods, including for celebratory shooting.
- In Kosovo – 93% of respondents would not own a gun, and 55% say they feel threatened by illegal possession and misuse of weapons in their neighbourhoods, including for celebratory shooting.
SEESAC collects information on celebratory shooting incidents on its Armed Violence Monitoring Platform, which reveals numerous trends, including:
- Celebratory shooting is most often reported in urban areas, and these incidents usually take place on the street or at a home.
- The weapon most frequently used is a handgun, and usually one in illegal possession. The exceptions are in Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina where gas pistols and automatic weapons are more often found.
- In the vast majority of cases, perpetrators are men ages 19-35, followed by those 36-60 old, while as many as 26% of victims of celebratory shooting are women.
You can also find out more about celebratory shooting from SEESAC’s In Focus Armed Violence Monitor focused on Celebratory Shootings in South East Europe.
This campaign is implemented under a project funded through the EU Council Decision 2018/1788 in support of SEESAC for the implementation of the Regional Roadmap on combating illicit arms trafficking in the Western Balkans.
* References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
 See: Security Public Opinion Survey (#SecuriMeter) 2021: “Attitudes towards security: Perceptions of security and threats in Western Balkans.”
See KPI 14 in the ‘Key Performance Indicators Report’, for the period 1 July – 31 December 2020, (SEESAC).