1. No question that, after 12 days of protests across Serbia, against president-elect Alexander Vucic, the protests are diminishing in numbers, from a high in the tens of thousands last Saturday, in Belgrade, to around 500 yesterday.
2. It’s been clear as the protests pass through the centre of Belgrade every evening, that they enjoy the general goodwill of people who are not participating in them, many taking photos etc, some even joining in…
3. So, why are the protests dimishing? Firstly, take into account Easter. And secondly, take into account growing questions about them, as they go on, namely – who is behind them?
4. Who is behind them? No one knows that. Protests are arranged via various Facebook and Twitter accounts, but they sometimes even conflict each other in information. Meanwhile the protests are not addressed by any politicians, or prominent speakers.
5. On April 10th, the protesters made a list of demands to the government, workshopped via Facebook:
Fair and Free Elections – the cleaning up the electoral roll, which is widely believed to contain ineligible and deceased voters; removal of the management of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media, REM, and of the State Electoral Commission, RIK; equal access by all candidates in elections to the media; imposition of strict penalties on those putting pressure on voters; obligatory TV debates between candidates; transparency over the costs of election campaigns. The protesters also want the regularity of the recent presidential election to be checked and reassessed.
Free Media – removal of the top management of the public broadcaster, RTS, and of the provincial broadcaster RTV; the sanctioning of all editors who breach media laws and the journalists’ code.
De-party-isation – removal of all party-assigned and corrupt officials from state-owned and public companies.
Decentralisation – direct elections for local government and more power to be given to local authorities.
Protection of labour rights and improved status of all workers – changes to labour laws to improve the conditions for workers and uphold their rights; increase in the minimum wage
Protection of living standards – pension and wage cuts to be scrapped; reform of the welfare system; agricultural reform and increases in subsidies for farmers; revision of agreements with the IMF; no further privatization.
Entirely publicly financed educational and health services that are available to everyone
6. However there was, is, no real chance of the government bowing to this. Vucic is actually playing a clever political game – saying that he supports the continuation of the protests as long as they are peaceful, and using as a case in point for the existence of democracy in Serbia…
7. Yet online, Vucic activists and pro-Vucic supporters are active in their opposition to the protests. The line they are taking, is the protests are Soros-funded. Actually this has even become an in-joke of the protests, with banners declaring ‘afterparty at Soros’ ‘.
8. The general mood in Serbia is that the protesters do have a point, read more about that here, and they enjoy widespread support, in principle, as a way of sending a message to president-elect Vucic. Yet, as mentioned, doubts about who is behind them, and a campaign against them by state-controlled media, and online, means they have never really reached ‘mass’ status (last Saturday was the largest in Belgrade, and that, estimated around 30,000-50,000, depending on source, a lot, but Belgrade has some 1.5 million).
9. Lack of a viable alternative to Vucic is further undermining the cause. Runner-up in the recent presidential elections was liberal Saša Janković , but there’ve been no Janković banners at the protests, no one’s been calling for him. He received some 16% of the ballot in the presidential election, and while protesters say this was rigged (giving Vucic over 55%), there’s no suggesting that support for Jankovic himself would top 20% in any case. So, if not Vucic, then who, is the question? Protesters don’t seem to know themselves…
10. The first rush of momentum of the protests has gone. Despite it all, for the first 10 days, the protests were on a high. Yet, down to a cluster of protesters now, the wind is truly out of the sails. Easter has no doubt played its part, but the test will be on the 18th, when the protests (officially) re-convene, if there’s enough momentum to push for another ‘big Saturday’, or whether they’ll make it to next weekend.