Following the Belgrade school shooting at Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary on May 3rd, the 18 femicides at the beginning of 2023 and the Mladenovac/Smederevo shootings that took place on May 4th, the ‘Serbia Against Violence’ protests began small but have progressed into the largest demonstrations since the October 5th Revolution (the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević).
Beginning May 8th, protesters gathered in thousands at the country’s capital city of Belgrade after the May mass shootings that left several wounded and 18 killed, of which eight were children.
The rallies have since recognised a ‘culture of violence’ originating from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), and the media outlets they control.
The demonstrators are calling for the government to revoke the national broadcasting licenses of RTV Pink and Happy TV .
When asked about Serbian reality TV, an anonymous Belgrade student described a 2021 incident on Zadruga in which an unconscious woman was strangled by a convicted felon on live TV, declaring ‘It's everywhere. They don’t care about us’.
The motivation for the protests was met with rebuttals from the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and his supporters who, on May 5th, declared that Serbia would be ‘almost completely disarmed’.
One of the protesters, who also wishes to remain anonymous, was angered by Vučic’s comments towards the rallies. ‘We’ve been protesting for 2 months and nothing. They’re just humiliating and threatening us,’ she said.
She continued stating ‘He [Vučić] said we are hyenas, that we were paid by foreigners to protest and that we are against our country’.
‘We are protesting because a child killed children. This is not normal’ she says, in reference to the recent school shooting, committed by a 13-year-old male student.
‘The worst part is that I love being Serbian yet the only way I can live a normal life is to leave’.
The demonstrators chanted ‘Vučić out’, also demanding for the resignation of Serbia’s Interior Minister Bratislav Gasić and Secret Service Chief Aleksandar Vulin, who are blamed for failing to end gang violence.
A supporter of the protests who wishes to remain anonymous stated that ‘It’s very demoralizing and almost like a chess game. Two million of us could stand out on the street and not move and they would still be one or two moves ahead’.
‘Last year, everyone went out on my street to vote and he still came into power’.
‘When I was younger, I had a rebel spirit. I believed in change’ he continued.
‘Now that rebel spirit has died'.
'My grandfather voted in the elections' said another anonymous protester.
'My grandfather has been dead for years'.
Criticisms towards Vučić began during his role as Minister of Information under Milošević’s administration as he introduced restrictive measures against journalists.
It was during this term that Slavko Ćuruvija, a journalist known for reporting on the Kosovo War, was assassinated. In 1999, before the murder, Vučić gave an interview to Argument in which he stated ‘I will wreak vengeance upon Slavko Ćuruvija for all the lies published in Dnevni Telegraf (Ćuruvija’s newspaper)’.
Branka Prpa, Ćuruvija’s partner, declared Vučić responsible for the murder and stated that he is the creator of the practice of persecuting journalists.
In May 2023, the New York Times published an article describing the alleged ties between the Serbian president and organised crime within the country, particularly his connection with gang leader Veljko Belivuk.
Allegedly the president's son, Danilo Vučić, was photographed during the Serbia v Costa Rica World Cup match in the company of convicted criminals, some of whom participated in another state-sponsored murder.
Vučić declared that the allegations were lies ordered by the CIA to send him a message. Journalist and author of the article, Robert F. Worth, rejected these claims.
Vučić vowed to tackle corruption, pledging to investigate ties between tycoons and former government members. However, data from Transparency International shows that a significant increase in perceived corruption took place in 2012, the year Vučić came into power.
In 2022 Serbia scored 36 on their Corruption Perceptions Index. The scale being from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
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