Serbs keep protesting, opposition and authorities announce mass rallies

Protests against the current government, titled "One in five million", began in front of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. [BETAPHOTO/EMIL VAS]

Serbian citizens have been protesting for four months, asking the government to ensure media freedom, crack down on corruption and tackle issues like unemployment, poverty, and the young generation’s brain-drain. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

The protesters, who have rallied in about 100 cities and towns, are mostly middle-class citizens who, although not existentially threatened, believe they are worse off than they should be, according to a survey conducted by the SeConS Development Initiative Group and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Just over a half of the protest participants believe there is no party or individual who represents their views or interests well.

“This is a rebellion against the political establishment, they are dismissing the representatives of the previous and current political elites and looking for someone new, but even that someone will not find it easy to ensure legitimacy’, said SeConS director and Faculty of Philosophy professor Slobodan Cvejić while presenting the survey.

Most of the protesters are young and middle-aged: 43% are aged 18 to 30 and 37% 31 to 50. Almost 80% either have a university degree or are studying to obtain one.

But 58% of them are employed, a quarter are students, while pensioners and the unemployed account for 8% each.

Estimates of the number of protesters, which vary wildly between the government and the opposition, range from several hundred in smaller towns to several tens of thousands in bigger cities.

Pressure builds in Belgrade, EU calls for dialogue with civil society

Thousands of anti-government protesters staged a rally outside President Aleksandar Vučić’s residence on Sunday (17 March) to press their demands for greater media freedom and free and fair elections, a day after they briefly broke into the state television building.

In a country that is negotiating EU membership and therefore accepting the Union’s fundamental values and freedoms, the main motives for protesters are free media (for 21% of the respondents),  institutional corruption (19%), and economic issues (20%).

Violence against political opponents has slid to fourth place on the list of priorities (12%), though it had been the initial reason why the protests started in late November, after an assault on the leader of the opposition Serbian Left party, Borko Stefanović.

At the presentation of the survey results, professor Jelena Pešić said the protests in Serbia were part of an existing wave in Europe, which had begun in Romania, Hungary, and France, and has now spilled over into Albania and Montenegro, too.

In her words, in all these places there are two key reasons for the protests – the effects of the global economic crisis and the rise of neo-liberal policies, and a decline in faith in traditional political institutions.

‘This is an age of post-democratic society, meaning that democratic institutions exist, but are devoid of democratic content’, she said.

The survey was conducted during the One Out of Five Million protests in Belgrade in early February on a sample of 450 citizens.

The One Out of the Five Million protests have been taking place in Belgrade every Saturday since the start of December. There are protest rallies in many other cities and towns in Serbia, where local problems are also on the list of the participants’ varied demands.

The organisers and opposition parties that take part in the protests demand resignations of the state leadership and free and fair elections at all levels after six to nine months, during which time the media would be free.

The opposition Alliance for Serbia has announced it will hold a big protest rally in Belgrade on 13 April.

Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić continues to refuse to meet with the opposition. He is still touring the country as part of the Future of Serbia campaign, in which he talks with citizens and representatives of local administration, institutions and companies.

Vučić has also announced a large rally in Belgrade, which he claims will be the largest in the history of Serbia. The rally will be organised by his Serbian Progressive Party on 19 April.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]

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