The outcome of the presidential elections in Serbia sparked protests throughout the country. What started as a demonstration of dissatisfaction with electoral results, is now showing signs of improved political articulation.
On April 2nd Aleksandar Vučić won the presidential elections in Serbia. There was no widespread optimism about prospects of the opposing candidates, but the 55% support, which provided a first round victory for the current prime minister, came as a shocking surprise to many. Fuelled by reports on irregularities, the aftertaste of an aggressive and unfair media campaign and not least by the rising dissatisfaction with the deteriorating quality of life, triggered reactions from citizens, which are still in motion.
Protests broke out in numerous cities, the largest being in Belgrade, where the number of protesters has risen to over 10.000 in three days, at least, while some sources estimated it as high as 30.000.
And while a wave of protests is sweeping through Serbia, the newly elected president states that in a democratic country anyone can protest, given that he or she has nothing else to do — making use yet again of his rhetoric which is a cynical offshoot of Protestant work ethics and an expression of the zealous commitment to neoliberalism of this politician.
While government officials commented that these demonstrations are controlled by the opposition candidates, and tabloids associated with the ruling party dismissed them in the already common Eastern European right-wing manner as the work of George Soros, there is no real evidence against the claim that they are spontaneous expression of the people’s dissatisfaction. Politicians are not giving speeches and there is no imagery of parties or other kinds of organisations. The protests were ignited by making use of social networks (mainly FB), and the only common theme among all of them from the start was a disbelief in the fairness of the elections and rage towards Aleksandar Vučić.
At first it seemed that the protests are bound to teeter on the brink of the apolitical, but articulations of social and political demands started to emerge. The Student Movement of Novi Sad delivered a set of moderate demands which they soon radicalised. Now, beside a list of institutional leaders demanded to be relieved of office, the document addresses freedom of media, demands abolition of austerity policies and calls for solidarity with workers’ unions and an ongoing strike. “These are our demands,” state the students, “since we recognise the cause of the problem not in the current government, but in the economic system this government supports”.
There was a number of protests of public and private sector workers, as well as pensioners, preceding the election, reacting to the austerity measures and legislation which is pushing the limits of social insecurity and making life ever more precarious. Although, it is early to make predictions about the future and the outcome of the ongoing demonstrations, the radicalised demands of the students which were read to and accepted by demonstrators in different cities, accompanied by slogans such as “We don’t want to be cheap labour!” point in a possible left direction, which could become a mass extension of the insofar fragmented struggles for a better society.