Amid increasing number of injuries, police in Kosovo and the region appeal to citizens to stop discharging firearms at celebrations.
By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 01/09/12
There are an estimated 4 million firearms owned illegally in the Balkans such as the pictured confiscated AK-47 assault rifles from the Balkan conflicts which some now use in ceremonies. [Reuters]
Kosovo police arrested 66 people after nine people were injured in celebratory shootings at weddings and other ceremonies in Kosovo amid increasing calls for an end to the outdated and dangerous practice of discharging firearms during celebrations.
Kosovo police told SETimes it intervened in at least 128 weddings and other celebrations in a two-month period, confiscating 116 weapons and ammunition.
"While there were no effective means for distance communication in the past, today the practice has lost its practical function," Ulpiana Lama, a Pristina sociologist, told SETimes. "It is only an archaic rudiment in the best case and, in the worst case, a penal act, an illegal possession of firearms."
Two people were injured by AK-47 fire at celebrations in Prellofc of Skenderaj and in Drenas in July and August.
Egzona Latifi, a student from Fushe-Kosova near Pristina, told SETimes that she is afraid of weddings after a recent incident.
"I was horrified ... and thought I was shot at that moment. This bad experience comes to my mind every time I hear any shooting from somewhere far away," she said. "I am afraid to go to weddings because of what I experienced then."
Celebratory shooting are tradition in other regional countries as well, including holidays, weddings, birthdays or the birth of a child. The tradition in some countries stems from a belief that loud noises drive away evil forces.
According to Serbian tradition, grooms also shoot an apple before entering the bride's home.
The increasing number of actual and near miss incidents has prompted many citizens to call on the authorities to end what they call an unfortunate practice.
"The state and the police should take harder measures to punish those who put people's lives at risk," Latifi said.
Weary of the growing reaction, Kosovo police are trying to make people aware of the dangers involved.
"We have asked citizens to celebrate with their hearts, not with weapons," Baki Kelani, spokesperson for the Kosovo police, told SETimes.
Kelani explained the police are also taking measures to the full extent of the law against all suspects, regardless of who they are.
But police response has not been effective in the past to prevent or repress the practice, according to Andreja Bogdanovski, security researcher at the Macedonian think-tank Analytica in Skopje.
Police in Macedonia initiated several operations to collect illegal weapons in the aftermath of the 2001 conflict between Macedonian government forces and Albanian rebels with limited results.
"In the last such action, June 2010 to July 2011, the interior ministry collected only 39 illegal weapons. The low turnout poses a question whether citizens fear for their personal safety, but also about the trust towards those who should guarantee their security," Bogdanovski told SETimes.
The police's task is made more difficult by the sheer number of weapons. People own estimated 4 million pieces of firearms illegally in the region and additional 3 million pieces legally.
"It is about time that this outdated and dangerous practice be limited and stopped. Without excluding education of people and continuous awareness, punishment is a necessary and efficient measure," Lama said.