Serbia’s education minister resigned in the wake of deadly mass shootings, including at primary school

Serbia’s education minister submitted his resignation Sunday following two mass shootings, one of them at a primary school, that left 17 people dead, while the European country’s government urged citizens to turn in all unregistered weapons or run the risk of a prison sentence.

Education Minister Branko Ruzic is the first Serbian official to resign over the shootings despite widespread calls for more senior officials to step down in the wake of the back-to-back bloodshed. Ruzic cited the “catastrophic tragedy that has engulfed our country” in explaining his decision.

Soon after the attack at the school in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, on Wednesday, Ruzic was quick to blame “the cancerous, pernicious influence of the internet, video games, so-called Western values.” Such criticism is common in the Balkan country, where pro-Russian and anti-Western sentiments have thrived in recent years.

On Sunday, the Interior Ministry said individuals could hand over illegally owned weapons between Monday and June 8 without facing any charges. Those who ignore the order will face the prosecution and, if convicted, potentially years behind bars, government officials have warned.

Police said the amnesty would apply to guns, grenades, ammunition and other weaponry.

A crowd of people follow a vehicle adorned with flowers during a procession.
People attend a funeral for a murdered security guard killed in the school shooting in Belgrade on Saturday. (Zorana Jevtic/Reuters)

In his third address to the country since the killings, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said, “We expect to get millions of bullets that way.”

The populist leader criticized the opposition for planning protests against his government for the way it handled the crisis, saying “it’s done nowhere in the world. It’s bad for the country.”

Weekend funerals were held for the victims of the shootings at the Belgrade school on Wednesday and in a rural area south of the capital city on Thursday night. The violence, which also wounded 21 people, has stunned and anguished the country.

While Serbia is awash with weapons and tops the European list of registered arms per capita, it is no stranger to crisis situations following the wars of the 1990s that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Crime scene analysts covered in white jumpsuits and wearing gloves examine a vehicle and the surrounding scene in a rural area.
Forensic police are seen working in the village of Dubona, some 50 kilometers south of Belgrade, on Friday. A shooter killed multiple people and wounded more in a drive-by attack in Dubona late Thursday. (Armin Durgut/The Associated Press)

The most recent previous mass shooting was in 2013, when a war veteran killed 13 people.

The assassin in the country’s first mass school shooting was a 13-year-old boy who opened fire on his fellow students, killing seven girls, a boy and a school guard.

The next day, a 20-year-old man fired randomly in two villages in central Serbia, killing eight people. Both he and the boy in the primary school attack were appreciated.

While the country struggled to come to terms with what happened, the authorities promised a gun crackdown and said they would improve security in schools and all over the state.

A woman holding a photo of a young girl and a man embracing a stuffed animal are surrounded by a priest and others during a funeral.
Parents of 13-year-old Ema Kobiljski, center, mourn during a funeral procession in Belgrade on Saturday. Kobiljski was killed in Wednesday’s school shooting. (Armin Durgut/The Associated Press)

“We invite all citizens who possess illegal weapons to respond to this call, to go to the nearest police station and hand in weapons for which they do not have proper documents,” said police official Jelena Lakicevic.

The voluntary surrender applies to all firearms, explosive devices, weapon parts and ammunition that people keep illegally in their homes, Lakicevic said.