Strikes and protests mount ahead of Serbia’s December general election

Strikes and protests mount ahead of Serbia’s December general election
Government officials, trade union leaders and Posta Serbia executives meet in an attempt to resolve the crisis at the company. / Posta Serbia
By bne IntelliNews November 15, 2023

Serbia is experiencing a growing number of strikes and protests in a variety of sectors as the snap general approaches on December 17. 

Farmers have stepped up their protests, blocking roads in parts of the country, while postal workers are also out on strike, and environmental campaigners disrupted a mining conference in Belgrade last week. 

The farmers’ protest started in the northern Vojvodina region, where protesters used tractors to block roads. On November 14, routes to Zrenjanin, Belgrade and Novi Sad were blocked. 

Their primary grievances revolve around the call for subsidies amounting to €300 per hectare and an allocation of 100 litres of duty-free diesel fuel.

Posta Serbia workers have also been on strike for several days, despite urgings from Minister of Information and Telecommunications Mihailo Jovanovic to return to work. 

Jovanovic warned that the losses to the company from each day work is suspended will have “enormous consequences for the financial results of the business”.

The Serbian Military Union has now come out in support of the striking Posta Serbia employees, saying in an open letter that the workers are not standing alone in their quest for “dignified employment” deserving of people in the 21st century.

“You have taught us all a long-forgotten lesson about the power of the workers’ collective. You are employees not slaves, and it is solely up to you whether and under what conditions you will agree to work. Don’t even think of giving up,” the Serbian Military Union said, as quoted by N1. 

There have already been two minor incidents involving people reportedly connected with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). 

One group tried to block the home of one of the organisers of the farmers' protest in the village of Bavaniste, according to local media reports. Their efforts were thwarted when other farmers used tractors and other agricultural machinery to block the group of activists in turn. The homeowner told reporters that he had identified several local members of the SNS. 

In the city of Zrenjanin, another group, again suspected of being SNS supporters, disrupted a meeting organised by the ProGlas initiative to discuss local issues such as water supply challenges and concerns about environmental pollution that some local residents suspect was caused by the Chinese LingLong factory.

Previously, environmental activists interrupted a closed-doors conference on mineral resources in Belgrade, organised by international mining companies on November 7, in protest against mining pollution in the country. 

They fear the government may allow international mining giant Rio Tinto to revive a massive lithium mining project in the country — previously cancelled by the government — after the election. 

The snap general election was scheduled after months of protests sparked by two mass shootings within a day of each other, the first in a Belgrade elementary school. Protesters, under the banner ‘Serbia without violence’, demanded early elections and an end to what they say is a culture of violence within the country. 

Another victory for the SNS is expected, but how large the party’s share of the vote will be is important. 

“[President Aleksandar] Vucic had previously indicated that the country would head to an early vote to placate social and political tensions following months of weekly protests against violence triggered by two mass shootings in May as well as opposition calls for government’s resignation,” wrote Teneo analysts in a note emailed to bne IntelliNews

“The general election might also serve as a distraction from uncomfortable questions surrounding Belgrade’s potential involvement in a violent shootout in northern Kosovo in late September. In addition, a major electoral campaign at the national level might also boost the governing party’s performance in the Belgrade elections, where SNS is expected to face strong competition.”