Revolution of “high pensioners:” Protest against Serbian president

Author : Yuriy Panchenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Protests in Serbia are provoked by the victory of the current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić in the presidential election
10:40, 19 April 2017

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"Are you going to the protests? Why? Everybody knows that they are paid by Soros. Americans give him money, and he gives it to the students again to create some problems in Serbia," claims a saleswoman at a small shop in Belgrade.

Protests in Serbia have been underway for two weeks. The formal reason for dissatisfaction was the victory of the current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić in the presidential election. This victory was undoubtedly recognized by the European Union and Russia, but not at home.

At first glance, there could not by any doubt in the victory of Vučić; he took it in the first round, gaining 56.5% of the votes; the closest candidate received only 16%.

And indeed, there are many reasons for resentment. The first factor is the "extra votes" - according to the Central Election Committee, 5.7 million people have voting rights. However, official statistics gives a different picture - only 4.9 million people are aged enough for that. No one can explain this difference.

The second reason is even more important. In recent years in Serbia, there was actually a dictatorship of the ruling party. De facto, it is impossible to work in the civil service (at least - at least some managerial position) without having party card of Serbian Progressive Party.

Related: Protests against new president Vucic continue in Serbia

This "party dictatorship" was even tougher before the elections. But the opposition says that eventually party administration was used to collect illegal votes for Vučić: public sector workers were forced to offer lists of at least ten persons are obliged to vote "correctly."

"My mother is an ordinary teacher, but she faces dismissal because she did not want to join the party of Vučić," one of the protesters urged.

This is not an isolated story. Tens of thousands of protesters are protesting daily at the National Assembly - the Serbian parliament - and the center of the capital. Protests also take place in other Serbian cities.

April 17 was to be a turning point - protesters identified this date as the deadline for fulfillment of their demands. The issue of the second round (though nobody says how to spend it, when one of the candidates has more than 50% of votes). The protesters also demand to change people, dealing with the organization of elections and monitoring compliance with media freedom.

Media freedom is indeed the question. A few days before the election, seven leading newspapers of Serbia came with the same front page in support of Vučić.

Protesters argue that the government is ready to make concessions. "Vučić is ready to compromise, early parliamentary elections (the elections were held last year), but maintaining the current system, they would be fake," people say at the meeting.

Instead, the government said that it was not willing to stick to these conditions and Vučić said that the protests might continue even for a hundred years.

April 17, massive rally was planned. However, as often happens in Serbia, the situation was intervened by religion. April 16 the country celebrates Easter, which is why students - key participants of rallies - are able in four days to disperse from the capital (Serbian official Easter weekend starting on Good Friday and ending on Monday).

Related: Anti-government rallies cover more than 15 cities in Serbia

That is why Facebook groups that coordinate protests, initially decided not to hold rallies during the holidays, but then part of the protesters said it still plans to go out.

So April 17, the protests were quite small (only a few thousand people), and very unusual.

After all, if the earlier protests were the work of young people, the majority of Monday rallies was for pensioners.

Many of them came to the rally with badges reading "High retired." "Vučić said that a meeting was created only by young people who smoke marijuana. That is why we have these icons to show that not only the youth protests," jokingly explain two elderly ladies.

"We protest because the country is controlled by one person. Without his permission nothing can happen - even in football or basketball," explained the other woman.

Protest itself was brief - people began to gather at the National Assembly at 18:00, an hour march moved through the city, and in hour they returned to parliament and dispersed.

Events these days should show whether the protests have chance of success. "The protest has very vague requirements, and it rarely leads to success. And yet, the power is reducing the protests, cutting off the most dangerous part," said local political analyst, consultant nonviolent protests Stanko Lazendyc.

These are trade unions of military and police officers - a week ago, they expressed support for the protesters demands.

Their intervention could become a serious threat to the government. However, Belgrade has very quickly reacted to this danger - at the end of the week it announced a pay increase for law enforcers.

Related: Serbian politician visits Crimea, says ‘peninsula belongs to Russia’

"Vučić would not prevent the protests, but would wait, that they go out. The only thing that can make a difference – blunders of power, but still its steps are quite correct," adds Lazendyc.

The protesters, however, are not willing to give up. "Tomorrow everything should be different – the students would return, and rallies would become of wider scale. It is important that the protests are joined by middle-aged people who are afraid of losing their jobs. And if protests continue, they will eventually also come," the rally participants believe.

Whatever protests developed, they will be hard to rely on the external support - both from the West and from the East. At least that Serb protests have no foreign component, supporters of the EU (and even NATO) are going with fans of the "Russian World" side by side going.

"It is not a question of the EU and Russia - this is our response to the dictatorship in the country," this is the most common answer to the question whether the protests lead to changing the course of Serbia.

And most importantly - the newly elected president of Serbia now has a unique position.

Related: Nikolic: ‘Serbia can’t introduce sanctions against Russia’

Claiming to be both pro-European and pro-Russian politician, Vučić managed to get support of the EU leaders and Putin.

For the European Union Vučić is clearly the least harm on the political map of Serbia.

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