People pay respect to the tens of thousands of victims killed in the Croatian Nazi Jasenovac death camp
The mayor of the Serbian capital Belgrade has spoken out against the recent rise in anti-Semitism in the former Yugoslavian state, saying he hopes anti-Jewish sentiment will disappear in the new, multicultural Europe.
Speaking to EJP whilst attending the week-long Mayor’s Conference in Jerusalem last week, Nenad Bogdanovic said anti-Semitism must stop and that Jewish communities around the world always strive to improve life in their country.
“The Jewish community always gives their heart to the country so I can’t understand how people in any country can be anti-Semitic,” he said.
Serbia is currently applying for European Union membership and Bogdanovic explained that he believes there is a tendency for nations and communities are to unite in “this modern, unified Europe.”
The mayor added that since entering office he has developed close ties with the local Jewish community and that they have helped him establish links with Israeli companies, which he says are currently the biggest investors in Belgrade.
Although only 3,000 Jews live in Serbia, the last month has seen a resurgence of anti-Jewish feeling in Belgrade and throughout Serbia.
At the end of March three men were jailed for putting up posters showing the logo of a local television station in a Star of David with the message “Boycott because of anti-Serbian influence... supporting the spreading of drug use, homosexuality and other Western sicknesses.”
Bogdanovic, who called anti-Semites “stupid,” said his government must act strongly against them.
“I think the approach that we should take against anti-Semitic people is very simple. The government must be very, very strong and stop these people who must be put in jail because in my mind this is not acceptable,” Bogdanovic said.
“Serbian people who try to be anti-Semitic are stupid people. It is not part of the history of Serbia,” he added.
Three weeks ago the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia, Aca Singer, claimed he received hate mail calling for Jews to leave Serbia.
But Bogdanovic, who has held the position of Belgrade mayor since October 2004, said he believes anti-Semites in his city do not pose a serious threat to the Jewish community.
“I think very often it is young people who are very close to skinheads, and for them anti-Semitism is part of the image and they absolutely are not serious,” the mayor said.
“I am convinced that they cannot do anything negative against Israel in Serbia and against the Jewish people who live in Serbia.”
This was Bogdanovic’s second visit to Israel.
His first was on a business trip ten years ago, just before former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was murdered.
Bogdanovic said he is full of hope that the country will be able to become a place of peace: “What surprised me was that the majority of people here want peace. I hope the time of Rabin, where peace seemed close, will return again.”