The news of the arrest of the famous director, screenwriter and acting teacher Miroslav "Mika" Aleksic has hit Serbia like a bombshell.
Three young women who attended his prestigious acting school in Belgrade have alleged that he raped or sexually harassed them.
The 68-year-old denied the accusations.
Aleksic is accused of having committed eight felonies of rape and seven prohibited sexual acts since 2008.
Prosecutors have not yet charged him.
Serbian actress Milena Radulovic made the allegations in the Serbian daily Blic, last weekend.
“I was a student in Mika Aleksic’s school for six years, when he first raped me," she said in the interview. I was 17. It didn't happen only once. It was repeated. Mika made sure that it happened during the class, in the room next to the one where the other students were, or in the period when work would intensify because of the entrance exam for the Faculty for Dramatic Arts. "He left no room for someone to suspect anything terrible was happening.“
Euronews contacted Radulovic but she did not want to comment.
She said on her Instagram page: "After a hard internal struggle, some brave girls and I decided to stand in the way of a dark circle of abuse. We will not give up."
Another young actress, Iva Ilincic, spoke to Serbian media about being - not raped - but sexually harassed at the same acting school.
"For six years I kept quiet. I negated it, told it to no one, literally no one. It was clear it was bad. When it happened for the first time, I told myself: 'Mika is like a father to me, this can’t be, it is not happening. If it is, he is making me stronger, he wants to prepare me for the cruel world of directors and producers',” Ilincic told Blic.
After these revelations, other ex-students of Aleksic spoke on both social and traditional media about their experiences at the school.
They told of criticism, insults and the destruction of their self-confidence. Some of them called it "a sect". There were also former students who were surprised by the accusations saying they never suspected anything.
According to various Serbian media outlets, Aleksic denied the allegations during a hearing at the public prosecutor's office, saying he didn’t know why his former students accused him. He was remanded in custody for 30 days.
'There were insults, shouting and me wondering why I exist at all'
Aleksic has enjoyed a reputation of being an esteemed acting teacher for several decades. Only mentioning his name would open many doors.
"Mika’s children", as they were known, were chosen for radio and TV programmes, because their abilities and talent were deemed unquestionable due to the association.
He founded his private acting school Matter Of The Heart in the early 2000s. It has been attended by around 3,000 children so far, many of whom became well-known actors. It was famous for tough discipline.
His classes started with a prayer and parents were completely excluded after children were enrolled. Students had to read one book a week, visit theatres and museums. Aleksic demanded strict hygiene and there was a dress code.
Serbian actress Djurdjina Radic attended Aleksic’s school for seven years. She shared her experience on Facebook.
“I was often sick when I would go to class on Tuesday evening, I knew what was waiting for me - insults, shouting, and me wondering why I exist at all - or if you are lucky, joking and working. The unpredictability made me go crazy every time….. When a group before us finished, we would ask almost hysterically, what’s his mood today?"
'Harsh and authoritative'
Actress Maja Susa went to Aleksic’s school for six years, since the age of 13. She said there were many fine moments, which included discovering books, plays, film and theatre.
“The classes with Aleksic could make me feel sick," she told Euronews. "His system was harsh and authoritative, from time to time it included insulting the students. I never experienced any sexual harassment, but I can say I left the class with mental and emotional traumas. I managed to heal after a while, working differently in the faculty and putting that system behind me”.
Branislav Lecic, an actor and Serbia's former culture minister sent his children to Aleksic’s school. He said they quit after a year because he was too rude and often shouted.
"We never used rude vocabulary at home, so they were shocked," he told Euronews. "My ambition wasn’t for them to become actors, I thought they should learn more about discipline, reading, going to the theatre. That seemed good to me. Aleksic’s wife was at the school as an assistant, she was also teaching at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts. I guess to some it felt like continuity, promising a way in for students, a higher chance to enrol at the faculty if they want to pursue an acting career.“
Patterns of behaviour
"This is a case which has shown that women can come together," said Vanja Macanovic, a member of the NGO Autonomous Women’s Centre. "One woman has no chance against someone so powerful. Court proceedings revealed that one woman’s word against the word of the suspect won’t be enough, especially if the testimony is the only evidence. Not even some professionals believe a single victim, but, when there is more of them who testify about the pattern of behaviour, it can’t be ignored."
She added that the women who reported Aleksic took the step because they were younger and had overcome the trauma to a greater extent.
"[The] MeToo movement has provoked more discussion about this kind of violence in Serbia as well, and there is also a positive trend of supporting the victims who were afraid to report the violence for a long period of time," Macanovic said.
'They feared I would go through the rape of the system'
This is only the second high profile case regarding sexual harassment in Serbia. In 2018 Marija Lukic filed a report against her boss Milutin Jelicic-Jutka, claiming sexual harassment. At the time Jelicic was the mayor of Brus, a municipality in central Serbia.
"I had the support of my family after I reported it," Lukic told Euronews. "Considering he was a long-time mayor and the member of the ruling party, people advised me I should let it go.
"They feared I would go through the 'rape of the system'. Unfortunately, they were right."
Although she had over 15,000 obscene text messages from Jelicic-Jutka as evidence, the trial lasted for two years.
He was found guilty of prohibited sexual acts and given a three-year jail sentence.
"The three-year-long battle I led under the watchful public eye helped to create a different environment in the public sphere, so that the next such case could have greater support than the one I had,“ added Lukic.