After several violent nights, the protests in Serbia don’t seem to be stopping. Although it was initially triggered by a new set of lockdown measures, including a three day curfew, the protests have evolved into anti-government demonstrations.
COVID-19 Timeline In Serbia
There are various reasons why the Serbian population is angry at the moment. When the pandemic was originally starting in Europe, President Aleksandar Vucic stood behind as Dr. Nestorovic, a member of Vucic’s SNS party stated that “people are afraid of the world’s funniest virus” and that the virus “only exists on Facebook”.
At the time, the elections were still scheduled to proceed at the end of March and SNS dutifully gathered signatures required to run. However, as soon as they reached the necessary number, Vucic declared a state of emergency and postponed the elections.
In late March began a curfew which only grew in strength as days passed on. At some points in April, people were locked inside their houses for four straight days.
On the first sign of the virus slowing down in early May, the curfew was eliminated and things went relatively back to normal. The people were overjoyed and the rules weren’t enforced anymore. Although the numbers remained low all throughout May and June, suspicions arose about their legitimacy.
Every day, people were hearing new whispers from someone who knows someone who’s a doctor about alleged understating of the real numbers. Still, the country acted as if everything was back to normal and government didn’t try to stop them.
What caused outrage was the fact that a week before elections a football match was held with 20 thousand people in attendance, while every other nation including England, Spain, Italy, and Germany still kept fans out of the arenas.
Then, the elections came. And went. Vucic’s party won in a landslide despite less than 50% of the people voting. That census isn’t required for parliament elections such as these. Like every other time when Vucic won, there were reports of voter fraud, dead people voting, people selling their votes, and so on. There are multiple videos circulating the internet showcasing all kinds of irregularities.
Numbers Rise Again
The day after elections, it appeared that the government suddenly stopped hiding the real numbers of coronavirus cases. For a month and a half, the numbers were under a 100 per day and then they suddenly jumped to above 300 a day.
Naturally, this caused outrage and anger in Serbian public, but Vucic and his ministers insisted that it was people’s fault for not being careful enough.
At the moment, the numbers are consistently above those Serbia had in April, at the peak of the first wave. Even the death toll has significantly surpassed that of the first wave.
After prime minister Ana Brnabic visited the Novi Pazar hospital, she was greeted with whistles, insults, and doctors turning their back on her. The reports and videos out of Novi Pazar indicated that the hospitals were overflowing with COVID-19 patients and that people were dying in the hallways. There have been particularly disturbing videos of a nurse piling up the corpses that can’t be taken away fast enough.
However, Brnabic denied that these things were happening and confronted the people, calling them liars.
Few days later Vucic intervened and sent some supplies to Novi Pazar and claimed that he “solved the Novi Pazar situation”.
New Curfew And Protests
On Monday, July 6, Vucic announced that there will a curfew from 5 PM Friday 17th, to 5 AM Monday 20th due to the rise in new cases.
That evening, dozens of unhappy citizens showed up to the parliament building to protest these measures. As there was a conference of a far-right member of the parliament happening nearby, his supporters also decided to join in on the protest.
The news of the spontaneous gathering of citizens erupted all over social media and seeing how the building is located in the city center of Belgrade, Serbia’s capital and most populated city, people were quick to join in on the protest.
Due to a lack of organization by the police force, the protesters were able to gather to a critical mass and actually storm the parliament building. After almost half an hour inside, the police backup arrived and they mercilessly beat the people with sticks, forcing them out of the building.
Outside, there were ten thousand people waiting. Displeased about the curfew, unhappy at the way government handled the pandemic, and enraged about the years of dictatorship. It was time to say enough.
Several more units of special police force units arrived and the escalation of violence began.
Over the course of the evening, over a hundred canisters of gas were fired. Numerous videos of police beating up innocent bystanders.
The mainstream media in Serbia reported that a couple of dozen ‘hooligans’ try to enter the building but were stopped. They blamed it on the opposition, they called the citizens violent criminals.
Over the next couple of days the smear campaign continued and PM Brnabic openly claimed that it was the protesters who fired gas canisters despite dozens of videos showing police doing exactly that.
Vucic condemned the protests calling everyone who attends a traitor and unwelcome in Serbia.