A wave of civic unrest engulfed Serbia amidst the Coronavirus crisis.
The immediate cause for the outbreak of the protests was Aleksandar Vučić announcing a new lockdown and movement ban, and blaming the spiking numbers of the ill and the deceased on “irresponsible citizens”.
In the past two months, since the state of emergency officially ended, the ruling parties held public rallies and elections, football games were organised with 20,000 supporters in the stadiums, factories worked normally, bars and nightclubs, mostly owned by the super-rich, were open, and the government gave false information on the numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
Citizens finally took to the streets, as the only place left to voice their dissatisfaction not only over how Vučić (mis)handled the Covid-19 crisis, but against the 8 years of his government. This is the real cause for the current protest wave in Serbia.
Demonstrations that took place on July 7 and 8, were marked by strong police brutality and the dominance of small, but well-organised right-wing groups that incited the violence. People, who wanted to express their rightful protest in Belgrade, Novi Sad, and other Serbian cities, found themselves in the middle of an orchestrated fight, on the receiving end of police batons and tear gas.
Some of them even ended up in prison, even though they tried to prevent the violence. On the positive note, the third night of Serbian protests was peaceful and the protesters managed to single out the violent groups by chanting “Sit down”, disabling them to provoke the reaction from the Police. Among the various groups trying to take over the protests, it is yet to be seen if the energy will be directed in the right direction.
Miran Pogačar, an activist of the anti-eviction organization “Združena akcija Krov nad glavom“ (better known as simply “Krov”/”Roof”) and other social struggles, from students’ protests to workers’ strikes, was arrested in Novi Sad on Wednesday.
He is still incarcerated and awaiting indictment. Miran expressed popular demands at the protest, including demands for resignations of those responsible for the horrific epidemic situation and the overburdened healthcare system, permanent employment for the medical staff, and reemployment of the workers that have lost their jobs because of the crises. Later on, during the protest, he warned that right-wing groups related to the ruling party are trying to take over and are vandalizing the town. Not long afterward, he went missing and only hours later did the lawyers get the information that he was arrested.
Several progressive and leftist organisations and political parties in Serbia, including DiEM25 local groups in Belgrade and Novi Sad, are demanding the immediate release of Miran Pogačar, as well as the end of police brutality.
Dangerous escalation of violence in the streets of Serbian cities, and the ties between the police, the government and the right-wing hooligans that become more evident by the day, call for a strong and decisive reaction of the left on an international scale.
It was the EPP and Donald Tusk himself who supported Vučić ahead of the elections, in the same way they supported the Croatian conservative government (together with Ursula von der Leyen using the EU flag), they also bear responsibility for what is happening in the periphery of the EU. DiEM25 condemns the EU establishment that obviously still supports the current autocratic turn of politics all around Europe.
Stop the virus of police brutality! Freedom for Miran and all courageous activists and citizens in Serbia!
Photo credit: EPA – EFE/Andrej Cukic
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