Several thousand people staged a protest march on April 25 to mark the anniversary of the controversial demolition of buildings in Belgrade's Savamala district.
The buildings were demolished overnight to make way for the €3.2bn Belgrade Waterfront project, sparking a series of protests. On the anniversary of the demolition, the Don't Drown Belgrade initiative which organised the original protests, again held a march to remind the government that the issue had not been forgotten.
The protest was supported by unofficial students’ groups which have been protesting daily against Prime Minister and president elect Aleksandar Vucic since April 3, the day after he won the presidential election in the first round.
Don't Drown Belgrade was also supported by the Union of the Serbian Army, the Union of Serbian Police, the Independent Trade Union of Education Workers of Vojvodina and the Independent Association of Serbian Unemployed.
They sought to mark the anniversary of the incident on the night of April 24-25, 2016, immediately after the last general election, when a group of masked men demolished several sites in Hercegovacka and Mostarska streets in Savamala. Citizens who witnessed the demolition claim they were treated violently by the masked men and that the police did not respond to their calls for help. The march was named “Phantoms’ traces” in a reference to the masked gang.
Don’t Drown Belgrade’s primary aims concern the Belgrade Waterfront project. However, since the Savamala demolition, it has also been calling for the resignations of Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali, acting Belgrade police chief Vladimir Rebic and Minister of Interior Affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic.
Students and union members also used the protest to send other messages to the authorities, including anti-Vucic messages and criticisms of the current economic and social situation in the country.
At April 25 anniversary protest, a student who has been protesting against Vucic for more than three weeks spoke from the stage. She introduced herself as Sara Nikloic, masters student at the faculty of philosophy in Belgrade.
“This is not a state, just a place where you are born in order to leave for some other place unless you join the party, and we all know which one [she was referring to Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS)]. We have only two options - to leave or to stay and become a cheap labour force in our own country. I refuse to leave and I refuse to be cheap labour force… Thus, I protest every day,” Nikloic said.
Some of the banners carried by marchers said “Duck you”; the symbol of the Don’t drown Belgrade protests is a yellow duck. But there were also banners and placards that read “Against the government’s camp”, “Who steals work?”, “Jail for Vucic”, “Against privatisation of public property!” and “Vucic Erdogan” - a warning that Vucic could follow a similar path towards authoritarianism as the Turkish president.
Others took a cryptic or literary turn. “A year passed, none in jail yet” said one, paraphrasing the title of a book written by actor Zarko Lausevic, who penned “A year passed, day never does” while serving a prison sentence for murder. Another said “The one who hits you with a digger, you hit him with jail”, which is another play on words, this time based on an old Serbian saying: “The one who hits you with a stone, you hit with bread”.
Protesters chanted the same messages as well as singing popular Serbian rock songs with symbolic messages for the government, with lyrics such as: “whatever is done, I still remember”, “Stand up and move on now”, “This is the country for us, this is the country for all our children”. With the songs came beer as well.
Even though a year has passed and officials claim that the prosecution has been investigating the case, it is still unknown who ordered and managed the demolition, which has caused anger and disappointment among citizens.
On June 8, Vucic accused top Belgrade officials of being behind the demolition of the buildings and said those responsible would be brought to justice. However, no further action appears to have been taken. In addition, Vucic said the construction of Belgrade Waterfront would move forward and that he personally will fight for it.
Meanwhile, in February, Mali’s ex-wife claimed that her former husband took part in the demolition. Marija Mali revealed to Serbian Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) that her ex-husband had bragged about his role in the demolitions. Mali is still mayor but he lately announced that he doesn’t plan to run for a new term.