Serbia Turns Against Vucic

Photo source: Euro News

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront


Since January 2019, Serbs have participated in weekly rituals, that involved protests against President Aleksandar Vucic, who came into power in 2012, after a twelve-year spell in the opposition.

Every Saturday, since then, Serbs have gathered at Republic Square at Belgrade, to counter ongoing assault on media freedoms, participative democracy and political violence. With neighbouring Albania and Montenegro, also volatile, Serbia's protests have been called as the beginning of a ‘Balkan Spring’. These protests had actually escalated in December 2018, and it might give emergence to a new global movement from Europe.

In March 2019, protests had escalated as riots spread to several neighbouring cities, including second largest city Novi Sad. However, protests outside Belgrade are smaller in comparison. This crescendo, however, has helped several angry people and opposition leader to barge into the headquarters of Radio Television Serbia. Several thousand protesters remained in front of the building as activist’s chanted “Vučić thief”, in the corridors of the building. The state police eventually controlled these riots by using pepper sprays, and bringing a truck near the building.

Many in the crowds, of around seven thousand five hundred people, also whistled ‘He’s finished.’ It was a similar slogan used during the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic, in October 2000. Bosko Obradovic, leader of far-right political party, Dveri, has even gone further ahead and accused Vucic of being ready to accept Kosovo’s independence.

As per an Oped written by Elis Gjevori: ‘In the Balkans, politics operates much like a revolving-door where politicians go out one end and come back in from the other generating a crisis of credibility. Widespread cynicism towards politicians who promise change but once in power more often than not emulate their predecessors is difficult to overcome.’

According to Associated Press, Vucic rejected to bow down to their demands – even if there were ‘five million people’ on the streets. He labelled the opposition leaders as ‘fascists’, ‘hooligans’ and ‘thieves’, and vowed to take a response, within Serbia’s democratic framework. His current plan seems to end the conflict with Kosovo, finding ways to comply with IMF’s austerity demands, and devising a strategy to enter European Union.

In November 2018, there was a beating of Borko Stefanovic, a member of Serbian Left Party in the opposition, in the southern city of Krusevac, where he was left injured, and hospitalised, after being hit by some blunt objects by angry rioters. Despite claiming to be an honest leftist, he had his own share of wanton controversies. It included the mediation behind the 2008 sale of state petroleum company Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS), to Russia’s Gazprom Neft. The deal had caused outrage for its tendering process and the final sale price. The deal was seen in the category of such privatisations, which led to the eventual economic downfall of former Yugoslavia. Vucic had launched an investigation into this deal in 2014. After the assault, Stefanovic believes that he was attacked because he had publicly spoken against connections between political servants and criminal networks, and he also alleged that there was corruption in awarding state contracts and in dispersing state money.

Next day, his associate, Dragan Djilas told the reporters that Vucic was himself behind the assault. The first demonstration held in Krusevac went under the banner ‘Stop the Bloody Shirts’, which had been organised by the Alliance for Serbia, an amalgam of political parties, including the Serbian Left, spanning country’s political spectrum.

The protestors had also demanded a probe into the politically motivated murder of Protesters Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovo Serb politician, in 2018, an outspoken Vucic critic, who had been fiercely anti-government, particularly when it came to reprimanding organised crime.

The Belgrade protests had happened, shortly after, and were mostly organised by the students enrolled at the University of Political Sciences. These recent protests are not the real testimony of Vucic’s authoritarian rule, mocked on similar lines by several observers. Infact, he has been likened to an autocratic president, seen in Russia and Turkey. When in 2017, he became the president, citizens took on a daily basis, for over two months, but in May, the protests eventually died out. It also signifies that these protests lacked grassroots initiatives, and a certain aimlessness meant that there was no clearer path set for a victory against the state.

Many Serbs had voted for Vucic, because they could not find a good alternative. The list of candidates had included leaders, former ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, who promised to build Serbia a coastline. 

Despite being an ally of Russia, Serbia also wants to be a member of European Union, under the current geopolitical context. However, in an evaluation of the April 2017 presidential election, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said: “biased media coverage, an undue advantage of incumbency and a blurred distinction between campaign and official activities undermined the level playing field for contestants.”

Also, in a 2017 report, by Transparency Serbia and the Centre for Investigative Journalism, there is political control over security forces and the rule of law is undermined.

In the past, Vucic was Slobodan Milosevic’s minister of information in the final days of the Yugoslav wars. He was given powers to fine journalists who criticised the regime and banning unfriendly TV networks. His ruling centre-right Serbian Progressive Party enjoys a complete grip over Serbia’s government, judiciary, and security services. He has imposed restrictions in the Serbian media, to such an extent, that only a few media agencies have been brave enough to write about allegations of corruption, cronyism, and voter intimidation, that have plagued the governmental functions.

According to an Oped in Foreign Policy written by Aleks Eror: ‘The entirety of the anti-Vucic ideological spectrum was being represented—from student Marxists to Bosko Obradovic, the ultranationalist leader of Dveri, a far-right opposition party of religious conservatives—sometimes causing scuffles among the protesters. This highlights the fragmented and impotent nature of the Serbian opposition, which is united by its opposition to Vucic but unable to agree on much else.’

The president has blamed these protests on Kosovo, possibly for a land swap, to resolve the dispute, with ethnic Albanians and Muslims, as animosities, have risen since twenty years, after both countries fought a war.

If we go back into the history, much of the current far-right extremism, spreading global, was given birth during the Balkan conflicts, of the 1990s, especially during the Bosnian War. It also created a generation of Christian extremists, and nobody stopped them, in doing all sorts of bad things in their home country.

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