Serbian government actively blocks the unity of the protests

by Marko Stričević

Current mass protests throughout the Republic of Serbia are the culmination of years of dissatisfaction of the population with the systematic devastation of the welfare state, privatization of public enterprises and the persistent insistence of political and economic elites on the introduction of so-called austerity measures. The trigger for the protests was the outcome of the recent presidential elections which were won by the current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. A short report and summary of the situation has been prepared for us by Marko Stričević, an active participant in the protests and a member of Marks21.

Protests “against the dictatorship”, originally provoked by the results of the presidential elections in which the incumbent Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, swept to victory in the first round, have been ongoing for more than a week ago across Serbia.

Although in the first days banners mostly carried demands to annul the election, for the resignation of members of the RIK (Electoral Commission of the Republic of Serbia), etc, the slogans and demands quickly began to take on a social character. Solidarity with the workers of the privatised company „Goša“ in Smedervska Palanka where the suicide of a worker led to a strike in protest at management’s failure to pay out any wages in almost two years; with the workers of the Kragujevac company „Fore“ who have declared a ban on obligatory unpaid overtime; with pensioners whose pensions have been cut – and many other social issues began to come to the fore.

The demonstrators are showing that the problem lies not only in the pre-election manipulation and authoritarian pretensions of Aleksandar Vučić, but also in the whole political course of privatization and austerity measures, which he has been carrying out, and to which opposition candidates have not offered an alternative. While public debt fell last year as a share of GDP for the first time since 2008 to 72.6%, the level of annual interest payments, at 3.1% of GDP, is among the highest in Europe, after the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain), Croatia and Hungary. The austerity measures and sales of public companies to foreign buyers represent an attempt, orchestrated by the IMF, to make workers and pensioners pay for collapse of the debt-led model of economic growth in 2008 and the ensuing bankrupcy of the Serbian state.

The protests demand: fair and free elections, freedom of the media, removal of all party appointees and corrupt officials in the public sector, decentralization (transfer of political power to the local level), the protection and improvement of the status of all workers, prevention of further privatization, abolition of reductions in salaries and pensions, protection of living standards, the revision of the standby agreement with the IMF and fully publicly funded and accessible education and health.

In Belgrade the far right at one point tried to take over the protests, but demonstrators drove them away shouting “we don’t want leaders,” which proves the independence of the protest movement and the rejection of nationalism and right wing ideas in general among young people. The right is trying to spin this on social media networks as foreign NGOs together Vučić himself being behind the organisation of the protests, while a number of FB profiles claimed that the „members of Marks21, communists, anarchists“ took over the protests. No one reacted to this except the ultranationalists and Vučić himself. The far right is once again proving to be a force that only divides and damages the movement.

The government and other regime media have been pushing the line that George Soros and the losers of the elections have been paying the protesters. Also, false demands appear daily in the press, mostly designed to suit the current government.

The linking up of protests in several cities has not gone unnoticed by the state. In Kruševac the leader of the Sloga trade union (a small left-wing union) in the „Trajal“ factory was fired for supporting the protests, while Vučić personally visited the workers of „Goša“. The police and army trade unions who joined the protest on April 8, according to the president of the police union Novica Antić, received a direct order from Nebojša Stefanović, Minister of the Interior, to report for duty that day. The April 10 protest was joined by the United Trade Union Sloga, which marked the symbolic unification of students and workers in the fight against the system.

The government is actively trying to prevent this unification, which means that the state apparatus does not respect Vučić’s statement that the protests are merely “an expression of democracy” and that they are “ok” so long as they are peaceful. On the other hand, most left-wing groups and individuals, are doing their level best to preserve the independence of this emerging movement and contribute to its growth. The future of the movement and the nature of its activity largely depends on linking up with the organized working class.

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