Stability versus Protest

While protests in Serbia continue, much of the international community seems to be opting for the ‘devil it knows’, while in Montenegro controversy over last year’s coup rumbles on… 

Milos Damnjanovic
One of the protest in Belgrade. Photo: Emil Vas/Beta

Leading Without Leaders

Student-led protests in Serbia have been taking place for more then two weeks now, bringing thousands onto the streets of towns across the country. For the most part, the protests have been coordinated via social media. But as the protests go on, the issue of how to coordinate, sustain and lead them is increasingly coming to the forefront.

Rather than a clear protest leadership emerging, protesters and those who have in some way been coordinating them seem keen to ensure that the protests remain leaderless. They stress the importance of the democracy and transparency that organizing protests and shaping demands via open Facebook forums allows. Yet there is also a growing sense that, if the protests are to last, some kind of structured coordination is vital.

Read more: Serbia Protesters Mull Ways to Coordinate Rallies (April 20, 2017)

"You are done" - Message for Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic captured on the Belgrade protest of military and police union. Photo: EPA/Koca Sulejmanovic

The Siren-Call of Elections

Faced with daily protests against his rule, Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic appears to be mulling what the best response is. Publicly, Vucic seeks to give off the impression that he is not in the least bothered by the protests.

Yet the constant demonization of the protesters as foreign mercenaries, agents of George Soros or other dark forces burning to destabilize Serbia in which senior SNS officials and tabloids close to them have engaged suggests that the regime is indeed deeply bothered by the protests. Aware that any crackdown on the protests could backfire dangerously, Vucic appears to be mulling another of his favourite political tools – an early Parliamentary election. Vucic expects that another show of support for his SNS would shut up protesters. His opponents are divided on how to respond should he throw down this gauntlet.

Read more: Serbian Opposition Split Over Fresh Election (April 18, 2017)

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Beta

The Folly of Stability

Many ordinary Serbs may be protesting against electoral fraud and the distinctly illiberal conditions under which the recent presidential elections were held, but in Brussels and much of Europe officials appear to have quietly breathed a sigh of relief that the man that they can do business with remains fully in control of the Serbian steering wheel.

Yet as Jasmin Mujanovic argues in his comment for Balkan Insight this week, relying exclusively on stability and predictability in Balkan leaders who deliver on the short-term needs of Brussels and other European capitals is something that has rarely been a good plan in the medium- and long- term. Vucic appears as the ‘fire-fighter’ who solves problems in the region, but he is frequently the arsonist as well. His illiberal rule at home will also come to haunt those in the West who turn a blind eye to it – just as it has come to do so in Macedonia.

Read more: Vucic’s Brand of “Stability” Will be Short-lived (April 19, 2017)

Sasa Sindjelic, the main protected witness in the coup case, had been convicted of murder in Croatia. Photo: Facebook.

Coup or no Coup?

Six months after Montenegro’s October 2016 Parliamentary election and the suspected coup which accompanied it, Montenegro’s Special Prosecutor filed indictments against 14 suspects last week.

The Montenegrin prosecution has done a good job of convincing a willing Western audience and pro-government media that there was a genuine plot to stage a coup against the government in Montenegro, backed by officials from Moscow. But many independent journalists, observers and analysts in Montenegro, as well as most of the opposition, remain deeply sceptical, arguing that the government itself fabricated the coup plans. We look back as the twists and turns in this story.

Read more: Montenegro Indicts 14 as Coup Controversy Continues (April 14, 2017)

Out of Favour

While it remains a mystery whether official Moscow was in any way involved in the suspected coup in Montenegro, it is certainly clear that the Montenegrin regime is not in the Kremlin’s favour.

One manifestation of this displeasure with official Podgorica is the sudden ‘discovery’ by mainstream Russian media of the crime, corruption and decay with which the small Balkan country is riddled. No coincidence that Russian media are making this discovery as Montenegro moves ever closer to full NATO membership.

Read more: Russian Media Paint Dark Picture of Montenegro (April 19, 2017)

Bulgaria hopes to benefit from a provisional EC-Gazprom anti-trust deal | Photo: Pavlo Palamarchuk - EPA

Seizing Opportunities

A provisional, yet to be ratified, anti-trust settlement between the European Commission and Russian energy corporation Gazprom stands to deliver huge benefits to consumers of Russian gas in Eastern Europe, including significantly lower prices and the easing of restrictions on gas sales between EU members.

Yet will countries that stand to benefit the most from the deal seize the opportunities which it presents? As our story from Bulgaria reveals, Russian influence runs so deep, particularly in the energy sector, that there are deep doubts over whether Bulgarian politicians and energy officials will try to make the most of it.

Read more: Bulgaria Stands to Gain from EU-Gazprom Deal (April 19, 2017)

Arbana Xharra | Photo: Facebook

Pressuring Journalists

Across the Balkans, journalists who expose corruption and the darker side of public life are coming under ever greater persecution and public pressure. The case of Arbana Xharra, the editor of Pristina-based Zeri, is no exception.

The most recent pressure faced by this journalist has come on the form of blood-red crosses painted next to her apartment front door and garage, a message intended to warn her that those unhappy with her work knew where she lived and that neither she nor her family were safe. Yet, these are just some of the pressures faced by this brave journalist from Kosovo.

Read more: Crusading Journalist Defies Threatening Climate in Kosovo (April 13, 2017)

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