Thousands protest against President Vucic’s regime in Serbia

Thousands protest against President Vucic’s regime in Serbia
Demonstrators defy freezing weather to fill the streets of central Belgrade.
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje January 6, 2019

Thousands of people marched through the Serbian capital Belgrade on January 5 despite the snow and cold weather, demonstrating against the policies of President Aleksandar Vucic and seeking media freedom.

According to some estimations around 15,000 people participated in the rally, the fifth such event in the last few weeks.

The first rally was held in Belgrade on December 8, 2018, and was sparked by the attack on opposition politician Borko Stefanovic in the southern city of Krusevac.

Some opposition politicians, who have accused Vucic of being an autocratic leader, believe that Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) was involved in the incident, which was denied by the party.

During the first rally protestors said they wanted the authorities to stop attacking their political rivals, and the police to find out who ordered the attack. Their demands were extended later to include more media space for opposition groups and thorough investigations of attacks on journalists and opposition members.

Numbers have also swelled, with an estimated 25,000 turning out to protest at the end of December, though some reports said up to 50,000 people had taken part. 

Protests were also held on January 5 in several other cities across Serbia, in Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Nis and Pozega.

Some 30 opposition parties and organisations grouped under the umbrella the Alliance for Serbia organised the protests.

People were protesting under the slogan “1 in 5 million”. This was a reference to Vucic’s earlier statement that he would not meet opposition demands for media freedom even if five million people are in the streets.

An actor and one of the organisers of the latest rally, Branislav Trifunovic, urged the director of Serbian state-run television RTS, Dragan Bujosevic, to step down, accusing him of being “in the dark part of the history of media violence and the abuse of the profession,” a statement from the protest organisers said. 

Trifunovic read out a letter sent to Bujosevic saying the head of RTS is accountable to citizens, not to his personal interests, the interests of the government or President Aleksandar Vucic.

Trifunovic said that Bujosevic is obliged to inform citizens truthfully, and not to use the public service for propaganda purposes, to deceive the public and to hide the truth.

Actor Radoslav Milenkovic also addressed the crowd, saying that citizens who come to the protest are brave and that “their only wish is to live in a normal country where law is valid for everyone”.

During the previous protest on December 28, protestors also sought the resignation of Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic.

Vucic, previously Serbia’s prime minister, was elected president in April 2017. His election sparked protests across Serbia as he was accused of leading the country towards authoritarianism. His ruling coalition now has a comfortable majority of 160 MPs in the 250-seat parliament.

In his early career Vucic was a radical nationalist, but later he has sought to bring Serbia into the EU.

Although Vucic’s ruling SNS has been the largest party in the Serbian parliament for years, Vucic has repeatedly resorted to snap elections to strengthen his position. He recently announced plans to hold yet another snap vote, apparently in response to the protests. 

If a new early election takes place, this will be the fourth election since the SNS came to power in 2012. The previous, also snap, election was held in April 2016 and a new regular vote is due in 2020.