Several demonstrations – two to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine and a small gathering in support of arrested pro-Russian right-wingers – took place in Belgrade on February 24, the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Serbia has sought to remain neutral and while condemning the invasion – including in the latest UN General Assembly vote on the issue – it has refused to impose sanctions on Russia, despite being under strong pressure from the EU and other Western powers to do so.
Polls indicate the country’s population largely backs this stance but there are growing opposition calls for Serbia to show more support for Ukraine – as well as vocal urging from right-wingers for Belgrade to back Russia.
On February 24, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several hundred people gathered at a peaceful demonstration on Republic Square, where they raised a Ukrainian flag on Republic Square, then marched through the city centre.
Among the protesters were Serbs, Ukrainians and Russians – many of whom have fled Russia for Serbia – as well as foreign diplomats, including Ukrainian ambassador Volodimir Tolkac and the head of the EU delegation in Belgrade Emanuele Giaufret.
“One picture, a thousand words about world unity in support of Ukraine,” said the caption of a picture posted on Twitter by the US embassy in Belgrade, showing Tolkac and Giaufret along with diplomats from Denmark, Poland, Sweden and the UK.
“Together with Amb. [Ukraine] and representatives of diplomatic missions [EU] [US] [UK] [Canada] [Israel] [Georgia] we are today on the streets of Belgrade in a gesture of solidarity with the fighting [Ukraine],” said a tweet from the Polish embassy.
Ukrainian embassy staff posted a picture of flowers placed on the pavement outside the embassy building with the words: “Today in front of the Embassy of Ukraine in Belgrade. Thank you all for your support! 365 days of indomitability.”
On the same day a group of activists arrived at the Russian embassy to deliver a request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to surrender to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
The group also had a cake iced to appear to be dripping with blood and topped with a large skull, which they left on the pavement outside the embassy after police stopped them from approaching the building.
The group’s leader, lawyer and activist Cedomir Stojkovic, tweeted a photograph of himself holding the cake in front of journalists with the caption: “I don't know how to tell you this, but I especially specialise in annoying Russians.”
He added: “Today, in occupied Serbia, we brought a "cake of death" to the Russian ambassador and a request for the surrender of V. Putin for the crime of genocide in Ukraine. We know that death is what they love, and people are what they eat, and this cake is a symbol of their politics.”
At the right-wing protest that took place on the evening of February 24, a group of activists gathered in front of St Marks church.
They protested against the arrest of pro-Russian People’s Patrol leader Damjan Knezevic, who had been detained after an earlier protest on February 15.
The February 15 protest was organised by the People’s Patrols, which is close to Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group, with support from banned neo-fascist organisation Obraz and parliamentary party Dveri (Doors).
The main reason for the protest was what its organisers said was Serbia’s distancing from Russia, but also a potential agreement with Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Protesters on February 24 carried a banner with the slogan “Who Signs Dies” – a message to President Aleksandar Vucic, who is due to attend a summit with Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti on February 27 aimed at finding a settlement to the long-standing dispute between Serbia and Kosovo.