Serbia’s Tough Saturdays

by Tamás SZŰCS, Journalist specialized in foreign politics 

In the past few months, there have been demonstrations in several Eastern-European countries. The scenario is always similar; usually, the demonstrators are attempting to highlight the current government’s corruptness. Unfortunately, the situation of Serbia is unique; the country isn’t member of the EU, and its government, against which the marches are being held, is the guarantee for the Euro-Atlantic accession process.

The Serbian protests have been going on for three months to date, and initially, they were against the violent atmosphere and the intimidation of those who think differently as well as the journalists who were critical of the government. The protestors go out to the streets every Saturday to demand the resignation of Aleksandar Vucic. The demonstrators had other demands too, but as more and more opposition parties joined the protests, the number of demands decreased rather than increase. The reason for that is that the opposition is very divided and the only thing they agree upon is that Aleksandar Vucic needs to leave the Serbian political arena.

Over the course of the past few weeks, there have been protests against Vucic in over twenty municipalities in addition to the Serbian capital. The root cause of the demonstrations was an attack against an opposition politician in November. The leftist Borko Stefanovic was beaten by perpetrators whose identity is unknown to this day in Krusevac in East Serbia while he was attending an opposition event. According to the politician, his attackers can be connected to the Vucic-led Serbian Progressive Party. The slogan of the protests has become “One out of five million”, referring to the declaration of Aleksandar Vucic following the first protest, according to which he will not give into the protestors’ demands even if five million of them go out to the streets. 

In light of the fact that this approximately equals to the number of adult Serbians eligible to vote, the protestors took this to mean that the President is looking to instate a dictature. The For Serbia Association, which comprises every party on the political spectrum from far-right to far-left, signed a symbolic contract with the people that includes the program they would instate in the event they rose to power. Meanwhile, the tension has spread to the Parliament too; the For Serbia Association has announced their boycott of the Serbian parliament’s sessions, and the opposition grouping includes approximately 50 representatives out of the 250-member Parliament.

But Vucic’s troubles go beyond having to deal with the increasingly fierce division of the opposition. A prerequisite to the Euro-Atlantic accession is reaching some sort of agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. This seems more difficult than even just half a year ago. The government of Kosovo has imposed a 100% duty on the products imported from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 21, after Kosovo was refused to join the Interpol’s international police organization last November as a result of Belgrade’s successful lobbying.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, similarly to Serbia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, as a result of which Pristina has extended the duty increase to include the country in question. Consequently, Serbia has put an end to negotiations with Kosovo, and the Serbian President refuses to return to the negotiation table until Pristina withdraws the measure. The head of Kosovo’s government has firmly stated that they are not going to withdraw the duty until Belgrade recognizes Kosovo’s independence. Haradinaj has also declared that there will be no exchange of territory with Serbia, commenting this way on Hashim Thaci President of Kosovo’s remarks on the matter. The press of Pristina has disclosed Thaci’s letter to Donald Trump in which he wrote that he is prepared to compromise with Serbia in order to put an end to the years-long conflict between Belgrade and Pristina.

The President of Kosovo has strived for compromise previously as well. Last summer, he stated that the conflict could be solved by border change or exchange of territory, more precisely if the Albanian-populated Serbian territories were attached to Kosovo while the Serbian-populated territories in Kosovo were attached to Serbia. So far, however, the possibility of border change and exchange of territory have been rejected by both the government of Serbia and that of Kosovo. Kosovo has declared its independence from Serbia unilaterally in 2008, which Belgrade still refuses to acknowledge, and continues to consider it as its own Southern province, inhabited primarily by Albanians. The coordination between the two parties began in 2013 with mediation by Brussels to smooth out relations, but no major strides have yet been made forward.

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