Photo: courtesy of Alliance for Serbia

In the aftermath of the opposition rally in Serbia which took place on April 13, the government is taking new measures to paint a make-believe narrative that does not correspond with the situation on the ground, Milos Djajic reports from Belgrade.


 

After four months of relentless demonstrations, on Saturday, April 13, Serbian opposition held a massive rally “All as one – 1 of 5 million” in Belgrade. 50,000 people from all around Serbia showed up to express dissatisfaction with the regime of President Alexander Vucic, demand fair elections and media freedoms.

As the result of the protest, the Alliance for Serbia and the organizers of the “1 of 5 million” protests were able to formulate and put realistic demands forward. Those include:

  • formation of the joint regime and opposition commissions for defining the rules of the fair and free election

  • demand for the election of the new heads of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM)

  • election of the new technical and editorial teams at public broadcaster Radio-television of Serbia (RTS) and Radio-television of Vojvodina

During the whole week before the “1 of 5 million” rally, the government-controlled daily tabloids and Serbia progressive party (SNS) officials tried to frighten the people from attending the rally. They were not shy from labeling the whole opposition anything from “ violent fascists”, to “thugs” to “foreign hirelings”, accusing them of re-applying the Ukrainian or Macedonian scenario in Serbia.

Serbian government calls for the hunger strike to fight the opposition

On Thursday, April 11, two days before the opposition rally against President Aleksandar Vucic,  the media broke the news that the Serbian Minister of Defense will start a hunger strike. After this announcement, some Belgrade city officials and members of parliament announced they will do the same.

The hunger strike threats made by the government officials mark unprecedented development in modern political history. No ruling party ever uses a hunger strike as the method for fighting the opposition. What is going on here?

On Friday, April 12, the madness continued with SNS officials attempting to take over local institutions in several places across the country, including three opposition-controlled municipalities, over what they claimed was “opposition violence”.

They also barricaded themselves into the Assembly in Nis, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Cacak, Sombor, and National Parliament etc. In opposition-controlled municipalities, councilors of the ruling party were trying to provoke incidents which would confirm the pro-government media fake narrative: “the opposition is violent!”

Watering of the Park in the government’s attempt to create the mud

It was raining for days ahead of the “1 of 5 million” protests, and the soil in the park where the opposition was supposed to set up the tents was wet. Despite this, the government ordered the watering of the already wet park so the mud would be created and prevent the installation of the tents.

Alliance for Serbia was discussing a hunger strike in their meetings but they never mentioned that in public. Suddenly, the government talked about the hunger strike, which was an obvious countermeasure that they came up with from secretly spying the rally organizers.

A government threat with a hunger strike, overtake of institutions and the mud they created with watering of already wet soil in the Park, offers no other explanation but that the opposition leaders were surveilled by the secret service, a standard practice from the 90s in dealing with anyone who challenged the government

Whose reality is this?

The government-controlled media continues to create a parallel picture of reality.  The Alliance for Serbia never intended to storm any institutions and it appealed to citizens not to fall for the provocations that would make it easy for the government to label them as violent.

However, with absolute control of the media, the government does not have a problem to put out any disinformation they want.

During the rally preparation, the drone of the public broadcaster was recording a few protesters and then used that to paint a fake picture as the number of the rally participants. The reaction and a statement of the government falsely claiming that the protest only had between 7400 and 7500 people shows exactly why protesters are in the street for four months as there’s no media freedoms nor a possibility to tell what is actually going on.

The government’s counter-rally

The government announced their response to the opposition rally by calling for their own rally on Friday, April 19. Using pro-government media, president Vucic will try to create a false picture of how the opposition is weak and without big support.

On the other side, the opposition will wait on the seven-day deadline which they gave to the authorities to respond to the demands.

The Serbian struggle for media freedom, free elections, and democratic institutions, continues. Aside from the democratic battle on the ground, the one that’s equally relevant is the one for the freedom of the press to report and get the information out. Serbian people deserve to speak up and be heard.

Milos Djajic

President of the Steering Committee of the Center of Modern Skills, Belgrade, Serbia.