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'Slap Of Reality': Montenegrin Woman Fined For Being Too Rough On Her Attacker

Milica Zivkovic was fined 85 euros and ordered to pay the costs of a court translator for her alleged abuser.
Milica Zivkovic was fined 85 euros and ordered to pay the costs of a court translator for her alleged abuser.

PODGORICA -- Montenegrins have mobilized over the authorities' unusual response to a late-night attack earlier this month, when a court fined a young local woman for fighting back all too well against a male harasser.

A judge acknowledged that the man "used physical force" against 25-year-old Milica Zivkovic but ruled that her response went beyond "necessary defense."

Zivkovic was fined 85 euros ($95) and ordered to pay the costs of a court translator for her alleged abuser, a Turkish national identified in legal documents as "UE."

UE, who is employed locally and had already spent 12 hours in custody, was fined 300 euros ($326).

"I don't know which was harder on me, the thug attack or the judge's verdict," Zivkovic, who has claimed self-defense and is appealing the decision, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

She said she's not someone who "sheds a tear" easily but that she cried after her treatment by the judge. "I left as a victim, innocent, and there I was slapped with the reality that I was guilty because I defended myself," Zivkovic said.

'Devastating Decision'

The ruling, in a misdemeanor court, has sparked public demands for increased vetting of judges and an acknowledgement from an indignant Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic that the "devastating decision" confirms the need for judicial reforms.

It has also contributed to calls -- including by the woman's father -- for greater controls over foreign workers in the small Balkan state of around 620,000 people.

A bruise on Zivkovic's arm that she says she got during the altercation.
A bruise on Zivkovic's arm that she says she got during the altercation.

Zivkovic has said the man had made unwelcome advances and pestered her in a cafe, then followed her and a friend into the street before grabbing her face, trying to kiss her, and touching her buttocks.

Zivkovic said the incident ended when the man fled at the approach of a passerby. She established his identity from documents that fell from his pocket before turning to police the next day.

The judge in the misdemeanor court, Alija Beganovic, questioned why she didn't immediately call the police rather than use physical force against him herself.

He concluded that Zivkovic "physically attacked UE, in the way that she hit him several times, with a closed and open fist, in the area of the head and body."

In court, "UE" accused Zivkovic or her friend of spitting on and slapping him, and said he only managed to tear himself away after being further accosted by an aggressive passerby.

An investigation has reportedly been launched into whether a crime was committed.

Abazovic took a personal interest in the case, and telephoned Zivkovic to offer “sincere support…on behalf of the government.”

“I also expressed my indignation at the unfortunately devastating decision of our relevant authorities, the judiciary and the prosecutor's office, which fined Milica for self-defense,” Abazovic posted alongside a photo of himself holding the message “You are not alone.”

“I regret that such examples confirm how necessary we need changes in the judiciary and prosecutor's office,” Abazovic added.

Foreign Workers

The incident has also stirred up resentment against foreign workers in Kolasin, a mountain municipality of around 7,000 people whose economy relies on skiers in winter and hikers and other tourists much of the rest of the year.

Zivkovic’s father, Stevo Zivkovic, posted a Facebook message to parents urging them to go to the authorities to “report everything your child reports to you, from ‘harmless touches’ to open attacks and attempted assault.”

He warned specifically about “numerous construction sites, whose workforce is mostly from abroad,” and encouraged patrols and late-night document checks of foreign workers.

A rally has been organized for August 19 in the center of Kolasin to show support for Zivkovic.

The Network for the Affirmation of the Nongovernmental Sector in Montenegro has called for the adoption of a law on judicial vetting to avoid verdicts like Beganovic's.

Beganovic reasoned that he based his verdict on the evidence before his misdemeanor court and that police and investigators' classification of the crime is beyond his jurisdiction.

Podgorica lawyer Milos Vukcevic, who is not involved in Zivkovic's case, said it is difficult to know at this stage whether officials made a mistake in treating the incident as a misdemeanor rather than a criminal case.

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by Aneta Durovic

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