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It’s the flag of the Russian Empire, which Russian nationalists have revived in recent years, and is being increasingly used by far-right supporters outside Russia.
By the door of the shop, there are stickers with symbols and people’s faces, which can be bought and printed onto clothing.
One of them says ‘Kolekcija 1995’ (‘Collection 1995’) and has a photograph of a man in glasses. At first sight, it looks like an ad for a famous brand of spectacles. But the person in the photo is Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, who was sentenced under a final verdict to life in prison for the Srebrenica genocide – which happened in 1995 – as well as for other crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mladic also appears depicted on a T-shirt for sale at the shop, portrayed as the lead actor in a fictitious movie called ‘War Who’ – a play on the literal English translation of his first name: ‘Rat’ (‘war’) and ‘ko’ (‘who’).
The shop itself is called 28.6. In the Serbian Orthodox calendar, June 28 is a significant religious holiday: St. Vitus Day, or Vidovdan. It also retains importance for many Serbs as the date of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo with the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
As well as the Mladic garment, there are T-shirts on sale at the shop with the symbol of the United Nations – but describing the UN as a “hypocritical scum”. On the 28.6 website, where the T-shirt can be ordered for less than 15 euros, a description reads: “The occupier from World Wars One and Two just changed its clothes, meaning its uniform and coat of arms, but its nature remained the same.”
The store, which has been in business for seven years already, was officially registered three-and-a-half years ago with the aim of “affirming unique homemade clothing of premium quality”, according to its website.
It is one of at least 19 stores in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, including online stores, that sell clothes with messages or symbols glorifying war criminals and denying war crimes, an investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network BIRN has revealed. Some of also them have bonds with right-wing organisations and sell items that glorify far-right ideology.
In November 2019, Danilo Zuza filed a request to Serbia’s official register of business entities, APR, to register a shop and service. He called the business ZuzaTim 28.6 Beograd, and according to the official register, he faced no difficulties in the registration process.
However, Zuza has been selling clothes in the shop with messages that could incite hatred. He was also previously a member of an organisation which was prohibited in Serbia a decade ago for inciting hatred, Otacastveni Pokret Obraz (Patriotic Movement Pride).
Eleven years ago, Zuza and another man, Milos Mladenovic, were sentenced by the Appeals Court in Belgrade to a year in prison each for attacking Teofil Pancic, a journalist for the Vreme news magazine.
As established in the verdict, they attacked Pancic on a bus, hitting him on his head and body several times using a metal telescopic stick and their fists, causing him light bodily injuries, Radio Free Europe reported.
Following the attack on Pancic and other incidents involving Otacastveni Pokret Obraz members, Serbia’s Constitutional Court of Serbia banned the organisation in 2012, citing its activities aimed at violating the human and minority rights and causing ethnic and religious hatred.
In its decision, the Constitutional Court explained that Zuza was identified as member of Otacastveni Pokret Obraz and a was participant in an incident during a public gathering held by peace group Women in Black while they were commemorating the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide on July 10, 2009. About 30 members of Obraz turned up to protest at the Women in Black gathering and shouted slogans like saying “This is Serbia” and “Serbia for the Serbs”.
But after the ban, the organisation continues to operate under a different name, Svetosavski Savez Obraz (St. Sava Association Pride).
When contacted via Facebook, staff at the 28.6 shop said they were unable to talk because they were busy with private commitments. In their response, they sent a photo depicting two men burning the American flag.
Several times between early November and mid-December 2022, BIRN journalists contacted an Instagram account which has Zuza’s photo and a link to the 28.6 shop in its bio. The answers received stated that Zuza had sold the business and the brand.
“I have nothing to do with it, so I don’t wish to comment and perhaps put the current owners in an unexpected situation,” said a response from the Instagram account. BIRN has been unable to verify with certainty that the account is registered to Zuza.
On the official APR page, he is still listed as the shop’s owner.
According to BIRN’s investigation, two-thirds of shops selling clothes glorifying war criminals and promoting far-right ideas have not been officially registered and only do business online.
Right-wing organisations have started to use social media to communicate their ideas, which has given them “an army of people behind them”, said Marko Milosavljevic, programme coordinator with the Youth Initiative for Human Rights.
“We have a torrent of online shops and websites like this, which used to be forums on MySpace or some other platform… I think that they follow social trends and adjust to them much better than the state,” Milosavljevic added.
BIRN tried to get answers from Serbia’s prosecution and from the Ministry of Internal and Foreign Trade, as well as the country’s Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, about how they monitor and prevent the sale of clothes that could incite hatred, but none of them agreed to be interviewed or answered written queries.
American right-winger with a Belgrade outlet
In early 2021, Shop 011 in Belgrade started selling T-shirts that read “Knife, Wire” – an allusion to slogans sometimes chanted by Serb football fans glorifying the Srebrenica genocide. Serbia’s Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications banned the sale of those T-shirts.
In late 2022, BIRN journalists tried to buy one of these T-shirts at Shop 011, but the shop assistant said they were no longer selling them, or other shirts with Ratko Mladic’s picture, due to media reports.
But in the same shop it is still possible to buy clothes with the picture of World War II-era Serbian nationalist Chetnik leader Dragoljub ‘Draza’ Mihailovic. Mihailovic was sentenced to death by the Yugoslav communist regime in 1946 for high treason and collaboration with Nazi Germany but the Higher Court in Belgrade rehabilitated him in 2015.
Shop 011 also sells shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Throw Bombs, Chetniks’.
“There is a high demand for that and I think that it is actually caused by the continuous glorification and, at the same time, denial of war crimes and war criminals,” Milosavljevic said.
“That has contributed to the current younger generation normalising it – for them those people are war heroes who defended their people from other war criminals,” he added.
BIRN was unable to get a comment from Shop 011.
Another online store, Serbon Shop, is also involved in glorifying war criminals. In posts on mobile chat application Telegram, it has called for a mural to be painted in honour of Mladic.
The shop claims to be a patriotic venture but has used Nazi symbols for years. Its Instagram page has been blocked at least three times by the social media company that owns the platform. Although it created a new page every time, Serbon also redirected its sales promotions to Telegram in February 2020. Telegram is increasingly popular among pro-Russian and right-wing organisations to enable the creation of groups in which content can be followed by a large number of people.
Robert Rundo, an American far-right activist who is facing charges in his home country of conspiring to violate US anti-riot legislation for his alleged role in violence at political rallies, has worked with Serbon in the past, using it as a platform for his clothing products, as BIRN reported.
As well as working with Serbon, Rundo also registered a business of his own in Serbia. His organisation also participated in collecting New Year presents for children in Kosovo.
Rundo responded to BIRN journalists’ inquiries by email but did not answer specific questions.
“I make clothes until the time comes to regain Kosovo and I hope it will happen soon,” he wrote.
In March 2023, Rundo was arrested in Romania and then extradited to the US to face charges.
Rundo has a tattoo of black sun on his elbow. According to the American Defence League’s hate symbols database, the black sun represents a variation of the swastika and was used by Nazi SS divisions during World War Two. Today, it is a symbol used by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
BIRN was unable to contact Serbon’s owners for comment.
As well as Rundo, Serbon has worked with organisations called Junak (Hero) and Kormilo (Rudder), which present themselves as humanitarian groups but participate in events with organisations that flirt with neo-Nazism.
Dragan Grmusa of Junak said that he is good friends with Serbon’s owner. Asked whether he agrees with the being promoted by the shop, Grmusa responded: “It is some ideology of theirs which they propagate… and I stay out of it.”
“Those are my mates and I also have some sort of private cooperation with them. So it’s not up to me to agree or disagree with what they do. We made some T-shirts together,” he added, showing BIRN’s journalist a shirt with the inscription ‘Slavic Brotherhood’.
He said that the Foundation has only done seven or eight T-shirts designs, but its priority is to help 1990s war veterans to whom they also gave shirts, like one with the slogan ‘There’s no turning back Serbia has our back’.
Working with right-wingers in Bosnia
As well as cooperating with Serbon, Junak also worked with a humanitarian organisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska called Krajina za Srpsku (Krajina for Srpska).
Since 2019, the two organisations have staged charity campaigns, using a flag emblazoned with the title of a song that is sung by nationalists, ‘Next Year in Prizren’, as well as selling Junak’s products.
Krajina za Srpsku now sells its own shirts too and recently obtained premises in the town of Celinac in Republika Srpska.
“The joint goal, both for us and our brothers from Republika Srpska, is to send over Junak shirts and make sure that they are worn there and that Junak is known about, just like people here know about it,” said Grmusa.
In the centre of Republika Srpska’s main city, Banja Luka, a shop called Butik Bastion has been opened, selling T-shirts from the well-known online clothing outlet Avangarda.
Some of the T-shirts sold at Butik Bastion have militaristic slogans like ‘Next Year in Knin [a town in Croatia]’ and ‘Next Year in Prizren’.
Avangarda has complained about social media companies removing its posts.
“Our photos are being deleted constantly. They smother our posts in terms of visibility. Maximum censorship. And a photo [that was deleated] depicted a hoodie that reads ‘Banja Luka’ with a panoramic view of the city,” Avangarda wrote on its Facebook page in a post from 2021 after Instagram deleted some of its posts for violating its guidelines.
A report entitled ‘Hatebook’ by the Coalition for Safer Web from the US and the Centre for Countering Digital Hate from Britain and the US, published in 2020, said that Facebook offers “a shop window” to far-right extremists and neo-Nazi groups, giving them access to a large audience and a marketplace for advertising neo-Nazi merchandise, which helps finance their activities.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an American sociologist, explained in her book ‘Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right’ that clothing acts as a carrier of extremist ideas into mainstream society, exposing others to these messages.
“The growing use of social media and digital platforms for extremist communication and recruitment has meant that the kinds of emotional appeals that underpin far-right-extremist communication are carefully stylised and curated for visual and cultural appeal to vulnerable youth,” Miller-Idriss wrote.
She added that in this way, fashion becomes a “gateway” into extremist scenes and subcultures.
Chetniks on shirts
Princip Brand, which was registered in 2017 as a clothing manufacturer in Belgrade, does not have the same problems as Avangarda with takedowns by social media platforms. Princip Brand has more than 60,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram, and markets its clothes worldwide.
The company sells T-shirts with the images of Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo 1914, and Chetnik warlords Draza Mihailovic and Momcilo Djujic.
“The people you mentioned represent people who dedicated their lives to what is most valuable in this earthly existence, and that is freedom,” Princip Brand said in a response to BIRN’s questions.
“They not only fought for their own freedom, but for the freedom of their entire people, including the freedom of your people, and they gave for it what we assume you also consider to be the most valuable thing in this earthly existence – their life. Therefore, we have a positive opinion about such people and we believe that most morally responsible people think likewise,” the company added.
Miller-Idriss said that right-wingers now show off their ideology with the clothing they wear.
“In the years since white-supremacist blogger Andrew Anglin urged his followers to dress in ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ ways at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, far-right fashion has rapidly evolved,” she wrote.
Her book said that new brands have been created to market the far right, with messages and symbols on clothing conveying white-supremacist ideology.
“It turns out that the T-shirt is an ideal channel for racist and nationalist messaging. Fashion has increasingly become part and parcel of the far right’s outreach,” Miller-Idriss explained.
In Serbia, the use of symbols that promote or justify the ideas or actions of individuals convicted of war crimes is prohibited under the Law Banning Manifestation of Neo-Nazi or Fascist Organisations or Associations and Banning the Use of Neo-Nazi or Fascist Symbols and Insignia.
The legislation bans the manufacturing, copying and storing of symbols which incite or spread hatred and intolerance.
But Princip Brand told BIRN they it has not had any problems with the law.
“We love and respect our country unendingly. We registered the business, we do accounts and we pay taxes and contributions to our country, so there is no reason to have a problem because of that,” the company said.
According to a published financial report for Princip, the company has one employee and made more than 50,000 Bosnian marks (over 26,500 euros) in profit in 2022.
When visiting the 011 and 28.6 shops, BIRN journalists were given receipts on which the actual designs of the T-shirts bought were not listed.
A financial report for the 28.6 shop states that in 2021, its profit was around 9,000 Bosnian marks (some 4,600 euros), and that it only has one employee.
Marko Milosavljevic of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights said that no official inspection service or ministry in Serbia that would follow up on the issue of shops manufacturing and selling T-shirts glorifying war criminals.
“There’s a political economy of crime here,” Milosavljevic argued.
“It even seems there’s some sort of a matrix in which a nationalist alliance and its followers are closely linked to money, while, on the other hand, those fighting against it are presented as misfits,” he said.
* Enes Hodzic contributed to this investigation.