Are the Protests against violence “Serbian Spring“?
Protests “Serbia against violence” confirm to us that today politics is exclusively found in the realm of the power. What has been understood as a problem so far is that the current regime is the generator of violence, but not the power and the state as the unchanging and only references of politics, to whom violence is inherent. State power antagonizes everything that arises and is not its subordinate nor was it gathered under its control, that is, everything other than what it is. In the desire to win the power and change the regime, there is no guarantee that we will not be faced with the fact that precisely we may be the ones who will be carrying out (new) state violence. The structural practice of corruption and crime is also inherent to the power, and the social democratic idea of their reduction and control most often shows the limits of democracy, and political subjectivity no longer exists for its radicalization, neither on the side of the people nor on the side of the parties. After all, other and stronger forces than our elected representatives took care of the persistence of corruption, crime and violence of the power. Focusing on the violence of the current regime does not call into question the violence of the power as such, that is, one expects a good, just government and a state which will be completely different from the one that currently exists. That is why we say that power and the state are inalterable and the only stable determinants of politics today, and the demand for the establishment of a non-violent society of equals with the withering away of the state is no longer a topic, not even among the left.
The question of whether these are civil or political party protests is a false dilemma. It is quite clear that from the very first one, the protests were initiated and called by the current opposition, and the only novelty is that after a long time the citizens responded to its call and took to the streets. People no longer resent the presence of opposition parties at protests, and it seems that there has finally been a reconciliation and establishment of trust among them – people no longer discredit them. However, in order to avoid damaging this fragile, newly established relationship, the opposition emphasizes that the protests are civil, while from the people’s point of view, from the participants of the protests, we can openly hear that these are opposition protests. So, at these protests, there was a twist compared to the previous ones, where there were conflicts precisely over the question of whose those protests were, civil or party, and under whose flags people walk the streets. From the previous refusal of people to identify with the opposition, a consensus emerged among the opposition parties not to emphasize their insignias at protests and to avoid being recognized as the initiators of the protests. For this reason, these protests are different from the previous ones. Certain voices from the opposition are trying to be decisive and tell the truth, that these are not civil but political protests, as well as that the demands of the protest concern the improvement of election conditions, with the aim of preventing the depoliticization of the protest1. However, depoliticization, that is, politicization and politics are not words that are in circulation at these protests, but it is radicalization that remains completely unclear – both as a category and as an action.
The question is whether today in Serbia there is any capacity for rebellions and the immediate overthrow of the government.
Elections are the point where citizens and the opposition meet. They agree that the current regime should be replaced by elections, not by rebellion. In addition to the fact that rebellions could have taken away the legitimacy and peacetime character to the fighters against the violence of the regime, the question is whether today in Serbia there is any capacity for rebellions and the immediate overthrow of the government. The demands that were put before the government through these protests seek to identify the sources of the regime’s violence, and according to them, they are the media and certain ministers in the current government. Therefore, the media that promote violence and which must therefore be prevented from doing so, and then also the ministers whose jurisdiction is to maintain public security, since they were the ones responsible for the inadequate response after the two cases of mass murders. Although the demands are directly related to these cases, they also concern election conditions, the already requested improvement of which includes the cancellation of national frequencies for regime-controlled media that promote violence, primarily against the opposition. Citizens who take to the streets do not question this, which means that they agree that the demands of the protest are demands to improve the electoral conditions that will lead to elections through which it is only possible to change the current regime. Therefore, there is a consensus of the citizens and the opposition that the conquering of power is necessary, not through procedures of rebellion, but through parliamentary elections. What creates dissonance are the statements of people at protests demanding that Vučić leave power (“Vučić leave/démission”) and for him to voluntarily withdraws from his position in the regime, although his remaining in office is a prerequisite for fulfilling the formal demands of the protest. Although it can seem that these protests are trying to delegitimize the power because of the violence it emits, this is not the case because the fulfillment of demands by the power is still expected. Therefore, we can say that the representation of the citizens is important for the citizens themselves, and then confirm this by the fact that today they walk side by side with their representatives who participate in the power as the opposition (now they are the parliamentary opposition). The dissonance of the demands indicates that these protests are determined by the absence of a joint articulation of the action of citizens and the opposition, as well as a space for organization that would open up the possibility to work on defining directives.
The place of the organization of the protest is unknown, so therefore it is not even questioned.
The place of the organization of the protest is unknown, so therefore it is not even questioned. This is what puts these protests on the same level as all the previous, more massive ones, and which also had no public place, forum or meeting for discussion and design of long-term mobilization and action practices. The assumption is that the place of organizing is at the heads of the opposition parties and in their mutual communication, which determines who should be invited as a speaker at the protests (actors, intellectuals, students, people who have suffered some form of violence). However, this does not mean an open invitation for everyone who would like to join the protest organization, which could make them political. Only the more sincere among the oppositionists do not hide that the protests must be political, while the majority refutes their own claims that they are civil – with statements that the opposition only complies with the suggestions and wishes of the citizens. An example of this is the granted request of the citizens to shorten the route of protest marches. We must agree that suggestions and wishes are not the same as proposals and actions. This indicates that there is still caution and a certain distance between the opposition and citizens at these protests. Therefore, we can say that the issue of organization is not a relevant issue for these protests, and perhaps it is so because it is clear and acceptable to all participants of the protest that organizations are already at its core – party ones – and that other forms of organizing are not needed.
The protests in Serbia do not emphasize the power of the citizens, which would be based on principles and proposals.
One of the most striking slogans at this year’s protests against violence read: It smells like Serbian spring. With this, an attempt was made to make a clear connection with the Arab Spring, with the mass protests of people in the Maghreb ten years ago, in Tunisia and Egypt, which resulted in the then authoritarian, corrupt and criminalized authorities to be replaced. The cause for those protests was equally tragic and difficult, and it was about self-immolation because of injustice and poverty, which was reshaped into demands for the change of the regime, whose corruption and greed led to mass unemployment. The regimes of that time were overthrown, the leaders were banished, and some other leaders, perhaps even similar to the previous ones, took power in the elections. However, there should be no room for disappointment, because as anthropologist and political activist Sylvain Lazarus claims, the Arab Spring stopped at the effective capacity of the people, at denouncing corruption, at seeking justice and demands for respecting freedoms2. It was not a matter of people’s powerlessness when they let the next ones come to power, because people’s power based on principles did exist, and not based on something which would be another, better power (government). Precisely for this reason, the equivalence between these two events, between the “Serbian” and the Arab Spring, cannot be established, because the main stake of the Serbian protests are the elections, which seek to establish a better power. Although the slogan “against violence” may sound like the principle which guides the protest participants, it refers, among other things or rather primarily, to non-violent elections. Therefore, the situation with the “Serbian Spring” is exactly the opposite compared to the Arab one: it calls for an end to the violence of the current regime with a plan for the day after (the elections) and for the establishment of a new regime. In the Maghreb, uprisings against the power were started by revolted citizens who protested in the streets, clashed with the police and were killed by them (in Syria they continue to die), held forums in public places that would last for days and thereby built their own effective, political capacity – effective, even in the sense that they succeeded in overthrowing the current regime. The protests in Serbia do not emphasize the power of the citizens, which would be based on principles and proposals, that is, there is no effective capacity for them to denounce the power and violence.
There are no Ukrainian flags at the “Serbia Against Violence” protests. Moreover, one public display of it (which is not the same as its individual transformation into an article of clothing by cloaking) prompted the organizers to remove it. This confirms the previously demonstrated caution of the opposition which organizes the protest, not to speak clearly and decisively about support for the Ukrainians’ national struggle for liberation, but to possibly condemn Russian aggression. Another crucial political situation, which is also not declared either at the protest or in the public space, is Kosovo and, above all, a clear position related to the recognition of its independence. Regardless of the fact that at the core of this non-expression and non-taking of a clear position, one can see electoral calculation, non-harassment of the electorate and essential non-reproach of the power, one of the biggest absurdities of these protests that are organized against violence is that neither the opposition nor the citizens see the main source and essence of violence in wars, past ones as well as those that are being fought today. This fits into the strong tradition of denying wars, above all those in which Serbia participated, which it initiated and led in the territories of the former Yugoslavia in the most brutal way against the civilians. The fact that the opposition today does not even advocate the extremely dubious position of pacifism when it comes to the war in Ukraine speaks of its unwillingness and lack of courage to tackle fundamental political problems, the biggest of which certainly is – violence.
Translation to English: Ivana Purtić
1 Listen to the speech of Branislav Dimitrijević in the show “Iza vesti”, June 7, 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MepmwC8kWsg
2 Sylvain Lazarus in cooperation with Claire Nioch, Hronologije sadašnjosti 2018-2019 (Chronologies of the present), GKP, Novi Sad
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