Tens of thousands of people took part in a demonstration organised by several opposition parties in Belgrade on May 8, following two mass shootings in the last week, and a second, smaller, protest took place in the city of Novi Sad.
On May 3 a 13-year-old boy killed eight pupils and a security guard in an elite Belgrade elementary school. Less than two days later, a 21-year-old man used an automatic weapon to open fire at people in several villages near the Serbian municipality of Mladenovac, close to Belgrade late on May 4. The tragic incident resulted in the loss of eight lives and 13 injured people.
Protesters gathered to show their unhappiness with the shootings, which shocked the nation and the wider region, and to demand the resignation of President Aleksandar Vucic and other top officials.
They also sought to tackle what some have criticised as promotion of violence in the media. The organisers of the protests called for the closure of print media and tabloids that disseminate fake news, the revocation of licences for TV stations that promote violence and the cancellation of reality shows and other programmes that promote violence and aggression.
Jelena Jerinic of the Don’t Drown Belgrade (Ne davimo Beograd) movement said that while the shootings “shook us all”, protesters want to tackle “what we see as the long-term causes of these events, which is the general promotion and normalisation of violence in our public space”, according to a Facebook post from the movement.
The Belgrade protest, with the slogan “Serbia against violence”, started in front of the parliament building. Demonstrators then marched towards the main government offices. Media reports put the number of participants at well over 10,000, with some reports saying as many as 50,000 people joined the protest.
“Let this protest be the beginning of change. Now begins the fight for all of us and the future of our society. The protest "Serbia against violence" must show that there is love, empathy and solidarity in our society. The protest must call to account all those who have made hate the perverse foundation of our community,” wrote the opposition Moramo movement on Facebook ahead of the protest.
Vucic has already announced additional measures to prevent future mass shootings, including a tightening of conditions for possessing weapons. Serbia has one of the highest shares of small arms ownership among civilians in the world, with 39 guns per 100 inhabitants, according to the Small Arms Survey.
Other measures include hiring new police officers and raising the level of intelligence and counterintelligence protection of the entire country.
However, critics of the government say not enough is being done. Protesters called for the resignation of the interior minister and the head of the intelligence agency. Education Minister Branko Ruzic already announced his resignation on May 7.
The opposition Democratic Party called for Vucic to take personal responsibility. Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has been in power for more than a decade. A Democratic Party statement claimed that Vucic “has brought almost all the media under his control, so he is responsible for the spread of hate speech and the promotion of crime and criminals in numerous media”. The party also accused Vucic of allowing crime to flourish in the country.
Meanwhile, officials from the ruling SNS said on May 8 that there had been calls for violence against Vucic at the rally. Both Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and parliament speaker Vladimir Orlic both referenced the language used by Tabloid editor-in-chief Milovan Brkic. They also claimed there had been calls at the protest for Vucic to be beheaded, according to party statements.