Is Serbia being terrorised into supporting Ukraine? The question may sound like it comes from the fevered imagination of a Kremlin propagandist, but it’s being asked with increasing urgency in Serbia. The country has been buckling under a tsunami of fake bomb threats which the government claims is being orchestrated by pro-Ukrainian forces after Serbia refused to sanction Russia.
Thousands of threats have targeted Serbian schools, hospitals, shops, tourist attractions and airports since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. So far no bombs have gone off. But the threats are spreading fear and putting an enormous burden on public resources, with evacuations and top-to-bottom police searches becoming a part of everyday life.
The threats initially targeted Air Serbia planes still flying from Belgrade to Moscow, despite the severing of European air links with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine began. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić first claimed that Ukrainian intelligence services and ‘one EU country’ were behind the bomb scares.
Kyiv furiously refuted the allegations, but the situation is decidedly murky. Among the hundreds of bomb threats received in the last few days, one was sent to the editorial office of a pro-European newspaper with a spin-tingling message: ‘Death to all those who stand in the way of freedom. Down with Putin. Down with Vučić.’
The anti-Russian sentiment of the email is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the bomb threats are disturbingly matter of fact, merely providing details of supposed targets without context. Others are terrifyingly graphic, with senders masquerading as tortured individuals hell-bent on destruction. Threats are often mass mailed to a wide range of supposed ‘targets’: one particularly twisted example, sent to several schools and a nursery in Belgrade last week, may have been inspired by recent mass shootings in America.