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feature 04 May 17

Serbia’s Fading Protest Movement Splits

As the once mighty nightly protests against ‘the regime’ shrink from thousands to about a hundred, the movement has also split along ideological lines.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Latest protest in Belgrade. Photo: Milan Obradovic/Beta

Coordinators of the nightly protests that have taken place in Serbia ever since Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won the presidential election have split into two main groups, one of which focuses on Vucic’s policies and the other on the socio-economic reality in Serbia.

The group running the protesters’ original Facebook page “Against the Dictatorship” has released a statement expressing regret that the two groups had split and adding that they “hope to cooperate in future in the struggle against dictatorship, which is the reason for these protests”.

The other group insists that while they continue to back the fight against the current regime led by Aleksandar Vucic, the raison d’etre for the protests must be bigger than just getting rid of Vucic.

“After the wars of the 1990s, the [NATO] bombing, failed expectations [since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic], privatisation, deindustrialisation, collapse of education, welfare and healthcare, we saw the political elites change but the policy remained the same,” the second group said in a statement.

This group has assumed the name “Seven Demands”, referring to the original demands adopted at the height of the protests. They intend to further define those demands and organise their own activities.

The list of demands was issued on April 10, one week into the protests. The demands are broad and general, including the removal of the “political elite” headed by Vucic, but also a shift in economic and social policies and protection of living standards.

Some are purely political, such as the dismissal of parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic, and removal of the management of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media, REM, and of the State Electoral Commission, RIK.

Others include changing the labour laws, scrapping pension and wage cuts, increasing the minimum wage and other social issues.

Besides the two main groups, a smaller third one, “Culture Against Dictatorship”, has also stepped out independently. They told the Serbian news portal Insajder that they will formulate more concrete demands because the existing ones are “unattainable”.

Points of contention

Photo: Milan Obradovic/Beta

 

Marko Stricevic, from “Seven Demands”, says that his group wanted to fight for all the demands agreed on during the first weeks of the protests, but the other group did not want to push for the socio-economic part.

He said the demand to change the Labour law was agreed at a joint meeting, but the “Against the Dictatorship” activists did not want to implement the decision. “This moment was decisive, but not the only reason for the split,” Stricevic told BIRN.

At a meeting in late April, one group sought changes to the elections laws, while the other wanted to push for changes to the labour law.

According to BIRN’s findings, the latter group was outvoted by a slim margin, and propositions to put forth one political and one socio-economic demand were also defeated.

“Seven Demands” also did not want to continue staging protests every day, which was another point of contention with the other group.

“We wished to dedicate more time to making connections with protesters in other cities and fleshing out the demands,” Stricevic said.

After the split, “Against the Dictatorship” has kept on organising daily protests, although the numbers of people attending keeps dwindling.

The group says it also wanted to discontinue the daily protests but the “people in the streets” wanted to carry on.

“Against the Dictatorship” did not answer BIRN’s questions regarding their future activities sent by email by the time of publication.

While neither group has publicly endorsed a political party or leader, contacts were established with some opposition figures even before the coordinators split.

Before the schism, some members of the group held meetings with opposition figures, which heightened tension between the two streams.

“Seven Demands” opposes all collaboration with opposition politicians, insisting that “all the parties that were in power over the last three decades created the living conditions that exist today”.

“Against the Dictatorship” maintains that it has no intention to lend support to any one politician or party.

Groups set out future plans

Photo: Milan Obradovic/Beta

 

Both groups are meanwhile adapting their strategies to the new reality in which the protests are drawing less and less people.

“Against the Dictatorship” has changed the concept of their protests, gathering in front of institutions and media organisations to express their discontent or support independent reporting.

The group has issued a statement saying that they want to continue “fighting the system that enables [Vucic’s] dictatorship”.

“The ultimate goal is to achieve our demands so that one man cannot keep holding all power in his hands,” the group said on Facebook.

Both groups also intend to fight for other causes, announcing their support for a rally on Thursday to prevent the forced eviction of an elderly woman and her disabled son.

“Seven Demands” announced that it would also show up at a rally in Belgrade against the displacement of refugees from the park near the Faculty of Economy, scheduled on the same day.

Stricevic says they will also support workers’ causes and labour rights, with a focus on changing the labour law. “Further protests will be coordinated with protesters in other cities,” he added.

“Seven Demands” has received an endorsement from the Students’ Movement, which has been organising the protests in the northern city of Novi Sad since the beginning.

As the protests subside, neither group is able to draw crowds of thousands that marched in the first two weeks of April, between election day and Easter. The number of people protesting has shrunk to around a hundred.

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