President Aleksandar Vucic
People march during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Image Credit: AP

DUBLIN: It’s as regular as clockwork, almost like the carefully crafted wooden cuckoo clocks for which Serbian craftsmen are famous.

Every weekend, for five weekends straight, tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Vranje and others across the former Yugoslav republic to demonstrate against the government in Belgrade and President Aleksandar Vucic — united in a belief that the nation is slowly slipping into autocratic rule and that the institutions of democracy are being undermined. And the protesters point to developments in nearby Hungary and the government there of Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a road map to what will happen in Serbia unless government policies are rolled back one way or another.

30

parties and organisations have come together to create a Protest Against Dictatorship

The unified opposition group is made up of some 30 organisations and political parties calling for electoral reform and freedom in the media — measures that they believe are vital to stop Vucic’s slip toward autocratic rule.

5

weekends’ running the protests have demonstrated against the Serbian government

“I support these people, my people, my country, against the dictatorship and the violence conducted by the government,” says protester Dalibor Kocic.

“Everything is wrong,” added another protester Natasha Vranic, “We don’t have freedom in the media. We don’t have freedom for journalists.”

April20

The date that Serbs are due to vote in national parliamentary elections.

The five weeks of protests were sparked by an assault on Borko Stefanovic, the leader of the opposition Serbia Left party at a rally in Krusevac at the end of November. Those protests have since broadened into a call for an end to political violence, freedom of the media and for free and fair elections.

As it stands now, Serbians are due to vote in a general election on April 20, with option polls showing the nation deeply divided: Vucic and his party have some 53 per cent of support, with the united opposition at 45 per cent.

But the protests are growing — the week before Christmas, it was estimated 35,000-40,000 were on the streets. Before New Year, there were 50,000. And organisers say that close to 75,000 took part in protests on Saturday, a figure not verified by Serbian security officials.