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news 12 Oct 16

United Civic Front 'Won't Change Serbian Politics'

The decision of several civic movements, including 'Let's Not Drown Belgrade', to form a joint front in politics is unlikely to make a major difference to Serbian politics, experts believe.

Milivoje Pantovic
 A protest by the Let's Not Drown Belgrade campaign group. Photo: BIRN/Natalia Zaba

Despite the decision of a number of Serbian NGOs and civic movements to launch a joint front in politics, Dordje Vukovic, from the Belgrade-based center for Free Elections and Democracy, CESID, said he doubted they can achieve real change in Serbia.

“Those organizations do not have the strength to 'pass' the electoral threshold, which is 5 per cent. Even if they do pass it, the question is whether they can do anything in parliament," he said.

“They do not have a big opportunity in the political field. Maybe they could do something locally, in their communities,” Vukovic added.

Several civic organizations from different towns and cities in Serbia, including "Let’s not Drown Belgrade", the League of Roma, the Multiethnic Centre for Development of the Danube Region, from Bor, the Movement of Free Residents and the Bureau for Social Research, BIRODI, on Monday announced the formation of a joint “Citizen Front”.

The “Citizen Front” is also supported by the Anti-Corruption Forum from Nis, the Left Summit of Serbia and the Support RTV movement from Novi Sad.

The independent MP, journalist and analyst Djordje Vukadinovic said the creation of the joint “Citizen Front” was just a start and only time would tell whether they had a future.

“Time will show whether they can do something on the political scene. In this form, they are not dangerous to the political elite. However ... if they continue to grow, maybe they could bring about change,” Vukadinovic told BIRN.

“Citizen Front” activist Predrag Vostinic from Kraljevo said the main goal of the movement was to re-establish the rule of law, which he said was under pressure from the government.

“Our goal is to gather local activists and push our agenda to the state level, which is the rule of law, civil rights and restoring law and order, which are all in jeopardy from the ruling parties,” he said.

Turning to the next presidential candidate in in Serbia next year, he added: “Our main concern is not who will be the candidate but that the elections proceed in a fair and democratic condition, which was not the case in the local and state elections in April,” he said.

Vukovic says that transformation of civic movements into political organizations is nothing new in Serbia, recalling the fate of the “Otpor” ["Resistance"] movement in the 1990s.

The Otpor movement played a crucial part in mobilising the population to oust Serbia's authoritarian ruler Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000.

However, in the first elections in which it participated as a party, in 2003, it did not cross the electoral threshold, after which the party fizzled out.

"Let’s not drown Belgrade" started as a protest group opposed to the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project in 2014. It has since gathered thousands of protesters to rallies staged against the government-backed redevelopment plan.

Vukadinovic predicted that in the current political climate, new organizations and movements, similar to the “Citizen Front” may well be formed.

“We have to see whether they [ the Citizen Front] have any success in their political fight,” Vukadinovic noted.

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