Portrait of a woman in tears © B-D-S Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

© B-D-S Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

With great courage and determination, Serbian actress Milena Radulović publicly denounced being raped as a child by her then acting teacher Miroslav Mika Aleksić. Her gesture encouraged more testimonies and Aleksić is now under investigation

21/01/2021 -  Antonela Riha Belgrade

The Serbian public has been shocked by the testimony of actress Milena Radulović, who reported being raped as a minor by drama teacher Miroslav Mika Aleksić.

Aleksić is a renowned pedagogist – many famous Serbian actors have attended his school Stvar srca [A Matter of the Heart]. Now, however, more and more former students are speaking out on sexual and psychological abuse.

Meanwhile, Aleksić was heard by the prosecutor's office at the Belgrade High Court, then placed in pre-trial detention for 30 days. Charges include eight rapes and seven illicit sexual acts against six women, one of whom is still a minor, in the period between 2008 and 2020. Although Aleksić denied all allegations during interrogation, part of public opinion – for once – seems to believe the survivors.

Milena's story

Milena Radulović , now 26, was 11 when she passed an audition to attend Aleksić's school. In recent days, many other students have confirmed Milena's account: as soon as children were enrolled in the school, Aleksić spoke to their parents, explaining how the courses worked – including the obligation for girls to wear skirts and for boys to wear shoes – and stressing that that first meeting with parents would also be the last. By accepting the conditions set by Aleksić, parents effectively allowed him to educate their children as he saw fit.

The lessons – as confirmed by all witnesses – began with the Lord's Prayer, and Aleksić insisted on traditional Orthodox values as well as on rigorous discipline and punishment. He often took the kids on trips, to visit fairs, and – as Milena said – even taught them how to cook soup. They felt part of a family, Aleksić was like a "father" for them.

“When we were 13-14, he would talk about sex. [Aleksić] asked us questions about these things in the presence of other kids, then when we were alone he asked us if we had had sex and if we liked it, saying that sex was important for health”, said Milena.

Milena was raped by Aleksić for the first time when she was 17, and he was 61, then – as Milena said – he continued to rape her, also inside the school, while other students had classes in the next room.

“With his manipulative behavior, [Aleksić] aims to provoke [in his victims] a very strong feeling of being responsible, accomplices, guilty. And, finally, to instill in them the fear of being left to themselves”, said Milena, adding: “he tried to erase any kind of self-confidence”.

Milena graduated from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, became a successful actress, and also had experiences abroad.

In November 2020, Milena was contacted – as she herself said – by a new victim of Aleksić's, an underage girl whom Milena did not know. Then it emerged that other girls who had been sexually abused by Aleksić had also come into contact with each other and decided to report.

“Being aware of all this, hiding the abuses [committed by Aleksić] and remaining silent would be tantamount to committing a crime. If we now decided to remain silent, even though we know that there are five other potential minor victims, we would become accomplices”, said Milena.

"He believed that none of us would speak"

For decades, Mika Aleksić's school has been a must for those who wanted to devote themselves to the dramatic arts. About 3,000 students between the ages of 7 and 17 went there. In the past, many actors have said that Aleksić had taught them many things, also helping them prepare for the admission exam to the Academy of Dramatic Arts, and they were enormously grateful to him. However, over the last few days completely different testimonies have emerged, terrifying stories of women reporting almost identical experiences.

One of these stories involved young actress Iva Ilinčić (24), who joined the girls who filed a complaint against Aleksić. Iva was 17 when Aleksić, then 63, sexually harassed her. At the time of the facts, she told no one, neither her parents nor her friends.

“His power lay in the fact that he believed that none of us would speak. Until Milena's courage set us free", said Iva, defining Aleksić's school as a cult within which Aleksić enjoys undisputed authority. "Mika shaped us in his image, he transformed us into the people he wanted us to become [...] You feel that you belong to him, that you are always indebted to him, and even when such serious episodes happen you think that he loves you and everything he does, he does it for your own good”, said Iva.

In the past, no one – not even the parents of those students who made it to graduation in Aleksić's school – has ever questioned the reputation Aleksić enjoys. In some interviews , Aleksić stated that some children dropped out of school and some parents were not satisfied. Only now that the whole affair has come to light, the media are reporting testimonies and memories of people who speak of other dark episodes from Aleksić's past.

Oblivion and silence

During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Aleksić was close to war criminal Željko Ražnatović Arkan, then commander of the infamous paramilitary unit Tigrovi. In addition to his acting school, Aleksić is known – as has been particularly emphasised in recent days – for designing the wedding ceremony between Arkan and turbo-folk singer Ceca. Aleksić was also a member of the party founded by Arkan.

Serbian society – which has never openly and critically distanced itself from what happened during the war, forgetting when not justifying crimes, and is always struggling with transition, poverty, and constant political crises – soon forgot that chapter of Aleksić's past.

Parents also forgot, believing that Aleksić's school would be a haven where their children would be raised in the spirit of Christianity – a strict, yet honest and traditional spirit – and would develop their talents to become great artists. Another reason for the popularity of Aleksić's school lies in the fact that his wife is a professor at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, and many who graduated from Aleksić's school later enrolled in the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, attended his wife's courses, and became successful actors.

This may answer some of the questions raised in recent days: how could parents not know anything about it? Why did they leave their children there without checking in on them? Why didn't they protect them from the psychological abuse many are reporting? Why didn't they talk to their children? And the children kept silent.

A new challenge

Many colleagues and public figures, as well as some Serbian government ministers, have supported Milena Radulović and the other women who filed a complaint against Aleksić. The usual malicious and malevolent questions about “why speak only now?” were answered by psychologists who explained the process of elaboration of trauma.

The testimonies of the actresses and the reactions of public opinion seem destined to mark a turning point in Serbian society. These days there is less insistence than usual on the patriarchal narrative that frames the woman as the one responsible for the rape, and the fact that the scandal involves public people has given greater visibility to the whole story.

This is the first time that most of the Serbian public opinion believes the victims and openly supports them. Social media are flooded with testimonies from women – some choosing to reveal their identity, others not – from Serbia, but also from other countries in the region, reporting similar traumatic experiences.

Now the victims – but also public opinion and above all the judiciary – will have to face a new challenge: the investigation, a possible indictment, and the difficulty of ascertaining crimes committed long ago. However, the fact that some brave young women came together and spoke publicly about the trauma they suffered, and decided not to let the perpetrator go unpunished, is in itself a turning point in Serbian society.

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