In Serbia the situation is heated right now. A lot of protests, and the Serbian government reacted very violently against the protesters. What do you think about them?

Spontaneous protests in Serbia were provoked by President Aleksandar Vučić, who announced the reinstatement of lockdown for citizens of Belgrade in connection with the coronavirus epidemic.

It is about the fact that we in Serbia had for months the strictest lockdown measures in Europe and then the government abolished all measures in order to hold the elections, even though it was a health risk.

After that, the health situation worsened and we learned that official data regarding the number of patients and deaths caused by the coronavirus were reduced, in order to improve the situation so that the elections can be held.

Furthermore, the government is constantly trying to shift responsibility to the citizens, even though the citizens were very disciplined and complied with all the prescribed measures.

However, new measures related to the epidemic are only a trigger of the protests and the cause is much deeper. The society has accumulated great discontent with the policies of the ruling regime, which has practically abolished the separation of powers, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature, and has concentrated all power in the hands of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.  In Serbia, democratic principles are annulled, State institutions are destroyed and media censorship is introduced. The country has a major problem of crime and corruption that reaches the top of the government, and the economic situation is bad. Serbia has become the poorest country in Europe. Young people are leaving Serbia because they see no future here. These are all reasons why the demonstrations in Serbia started a year and a half ago. As the government does not try to solve those problems, but hides them, it was inevitable that there would be a boiling point of dissatisfaction. I think the protests will continue from the fall onwards with even greater intensity.

And recently the European Commission said that they are concerned about the brutality of the police, which suppressed these protests. Is the European Commission rightly concerned about this situation in Serbia?

For the first time since the democratic changes in Serbia, after 20 years, the police used force against protesting citizens. To make things worse, the incidents during the protests were caused by plainclothes policemen and hooligans sent by the authorities to provoke clashes. They stood in the front line next to the police lines and started throwing bottles, torches and a fence at the police, then the police fired tear gas at the demonstrators and chased them with batons, cavalry and combat vehicles through the streets of Belgrade. Some people were injured. I saw several demonstrators with bloody heads and tear gas, which was produced 30 years ago, was fired in such quantities that people started to faint. For all these reasons, I believe that the European Commission's reaction is entirely correct. Serbian citizens are also concerned about the brutality of the police, especially towards the young people who came in large numbers to the demonstrations. More than seventy people were arrested during the demonstrations, and a demonstration was held yesterday in front of Belgrade Central Prison, demanding that all those who were demonstrating peacefully be released immediately. Arrests are a method of intimidation by which the government wants to dissuade citizens from demonstrations, but I believe that everything the government does only increases dissatisfaction even further.

Dragana Trifkovic, Director of the Centre for Geostrategic Studies

July 15, 2020

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