Reportage. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic pardoned most of the people who commandeered a public television station Saturday, but he refuses to be rattled by the large protests. International players still have his back, wary of a disunited opposition.

Tension in Belgrade as protesters demand Vucic’s resignation

The past few days have been filled with tension in Serbia. On Saturday night, in Belgrade, a hundred protesters broke into the public television station, stopping the scheduled broadcasts and accusing the government of manipulating the media. On Sunday, a few thousand demonstrators protested in front of the president’s office. President Aleksandar Vucic made a press statement reiterating that he was not afraid of the protesters, whom he unhesitatingly condemned as “fascists.”

The protests resumed Monday, after the opposition announced that it would not stop until the 18 demonstrators arrested on Saturday night were released. At 4 p.m. Monday, Vucic ordered the release of all the people arrested and announced a pardon for all those who took part in the occupation of the TV station (except for two, who are said to have “threatened the journalists with a chainsaw”). The protests all across Serbia—just like in most countries in the Balkans these days—have been ongoing for several months, taking place every Saturday in almost all the major cities in the country.

Many thousands of demonstrators have rallied around the One In Five Million and League for Serbia platforms. The reasons for the protests are the undeniable economic hardship and Vucic’s increasingly authoritarian and personalistic manner of exercising power. The participants in the protests are diverse and many have sharp disagreements in positions: regular citizens angry over economic hardship, America supporters, Putin supporters, nationalists and skilled demagogues of the extreme right.

The latter are trying, and might indeed succeed, to set themselves up as the leaders of the protests. In particular, Bosko Obradovic—one of the leaders of the protesters who occupied the public TV station—is infamous for his fiery nationalist and homophobic speeches in the Serbian Parliament, and is the head of the far-right Christian-conservative party Dveri. Also leading the pack are Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister, and Dragan Djilas, a former mayor of Belgrade, both from the Serbian Democratic Party (DS), led in the past by former President Boris Tadic.

Vucic has called the latter two oligarchs and said Obradovic is a “fascist.”

On Feb. 23, the Left Bloc, a platform created ad-hoc to coordinate the groups of the radical left, decided not to take part in the protests. For now, the protests are continuing with no end in sight, as Vucic seems to be comfortable in power and has no intention of resigning.

However, Saturday’s events gave a new impetus to the protests, which were running out of steam. Vucic still enjoys the confidence of the bureaucrats in Brussels, since he is seen as the guarantor of the surprising stability of Kosovo—whose status remains contested and is dividing the international community—on the so-called “Serbian path” toward European integration. Russia also sees Vucic as a stabilizing factor. Furthermore, an opposition made up of so many different voices doesn’t seem like a favorable “post-Vucic” scenario.

The League for Serbia has given Vucic an ultimatum, demanding that he resign within a month. The political climate in Belgrade is hot—pro-Vucic demonstrations are also rumored to be planned—but has arguably not yet reached a boiling point. The fact remains that the protests have proven to be much more of a problem for Vucic than he would have imagined even a few months ago, when he famously said that he wouldn’t resign even if five million people were to march against him. The One In Five Million movement aims to test that assertion.

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