Hybrid Protests Against a Hybrid Regime
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Serbia has a long tradition of anti-government and anti-systemic protests. The 1990s, marked by the authoritarian rule of Slobodan Milošević, wars, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, international sanctions and general impoverishment, witnessed a great number of opposition rallies as a reaction to these deteriorating circumstances and the regime’s undemocratic practices. During this decade, three protests – all taking place in the Serbian capital, Belgrade – stand out: 1] 9 March, 1991, protesters demanded unbiased public television; 2] a week-long Vidovdan rally in June/July 1992 calling for Milošević’s resignation, the dissolution of the parliament and the creation of a National Salvation Government; and 3] a three-month long 1996/97 protest against local election fraud. The 1990s protests culminated and came to fruition on 5 October, 2000, when hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in front of the Parliament, stormed the building and, consequently, overthrew Yugoslav President Milošević.
After the overthrow of the Milošević regime, no large civil protest took place in Serbia for more than 15 years – in terms of numbers, protestors’ determination and goals, which were primarily general interest. In that period, a number of smaller protests and strikes, focussing on particular issues, most frequently on the rights of certain groups, were organised. This analysis will focus on the longest lasting civil protest after the democratic changes of October 2000: the protest “1 of 5 million” which started at the end of 2018 and lasted until March 2020. This protest did not just come out of nowhere: the grounds for it were laid by important protests that preceded it – demonstrations against the construction of the Belgrade Waterfront, a €3 billion development project funded by the UAE-based Eagle Hills group in the most exclusive area of the Serbian capital at the Sava riverfront and, particularly, the “Against Dictatorship” protest, opposing election fraud in the 2017 Presidential election.