by Saker’s Johnny-on-the-spot in Belgrade for The Saker Blog
Daily protests against tyrant Vučić continue unabated in front of Parliament in Belgrade and are nearing their twentieth consecutive day. The regime’s early hopes of dispersing them by using brutal police violence against the protesters have themselves been dispersed. Every evening several hundred citizens, “keepers of the flame” as they like to call themselves, gather on parliament plateau and hold their Agora. They disregard totally the authorities’ decrees, supposedly motivated by the public good and pandemic-related medical reasons, banning groups of more than ten individuals and requiring the keeping of “social distance”. Just as it did after the July 7 spontaneous protests that broke out following Vučić’s announcement of lockdown reintroduction, the regime again put its tail between its legs and backed down. It is clearly afraid of sparking another wave of outrage by enforcing its hastily improvised “public health” regulations, which in reality were intended to snuff out the protests.
But the real story is that the truth about the police violence on July 8 and 9 is finally emerging, as everything in Serbian ultimately does. Veteran journalist Danko Vasković has disclosed the details of the regime’s sleight-of-hand by which an initially peaceful gathering against the announced second lockdown was transformed by organized regime thugs into a violent confrontation, arranged to portray peaceful and law-abiding citizens as destructive terrorists:
In true agent provocateur fashion, regime thugs (we did not err by comparing them to Duvalierist tontons macoutes in Haiti) initiated the violence by pelting the police with stones and leading a charge to break into parliament. That gave Vučić’s police and gendarmerie the necessary pretext to attack the peaceful crowd and start breaking skulls and bones. The thugs then moved back behind police lines and joined the police in beating and arresting protesters.
Regime propaganda was quick to misrepresent the disorders as an attempted coup, a Serbian Maidan, depicting Vučić as an innocent victim of foreign inspired plots. Absurdly, regime script writers could not get their story straight so they simultaneously laid the blame on both Western intelligence and Russia. Rumors were spread that Srdja Popović, head of the notorious Otpor color revolution adjunct of Western intelligence services was redeployed from his cushy university job in Scotland to Belgrade, to plot against Vučić. There was no logical explanation of why border control officials would allow such a character to enter the country, or why the regime would tolerate Otpor (now renamed Canvas) to maintain offices and to operate freely in Serbia. At the same time, the regime’s schizophrenic spin doctors were ramping up anti-Russian propaganda, accusing Kremlin agents of stirring up the protests. It was a direct outburst of fury at Putin for making it crystal clear that Russia will block Kosovo change of status regardless of the position official Belgrade takes in the matter. Law professor Dejan Mirović explained why the increasingly cornered regime is bound to soon drop its pretense of being Russia-friendly and will most likely follow in the footsteps of Djukanović by shifting to a radically anti-Russian position.
So now the main contours of what happened in Serbia this month are becoming clear. The regime tried to use the corona pandemic as a cover for finally settling its obligations to Western sponsors who brought it to power and whose impatience at Vučić’s years-long delay in delivering Kosovo was becoming palpable. But Vučić and his bumbling, incompetent crew botch everything, and this was no exception. Briefly, the plan was to lock the nation up while preparations for fraudulent June 21 elections were being conducted. Shortly before the elections, the lockdown was lifted and Serbia was proclaimed safe from the pandemic. It is important to understand why it was crucial for Vučić to stage these elections and to arrange for a better than 2/3 victory. The preamble to Serbia’s constitution specifically states that Kosovo is an inalienable part of Serbia and that no agreement separating it from Serbia would ever be lawful. This provision, if left unchanged, would nullify Vučić’s signature. That huge obstacle to the act of treason Vučić is committed to enact could only be overcome by a constitutional amendment, which parliament must pass, and for which at least 2/3 of the deputies must vote. That resolves the mystery of the magically concocted overwhelming, better than 2/3 victory Vučić’s vote-counters gave their boss. But just as everything was set to give Kosovo betrayal a veneer of legality, Vučić foolishly shot himself in the foot.
His desire to make sure the Serbian people were safely locked up while finishing touches were being put on the Kosovo handover, in Washington on June 27 (spoiled by the Thaci indictment in the Hague) and in Brussels on July 16, is perfectly understandable from his point of view and requires no elaboration. Vučić’s manner of execution was, however, characteristically clumsy. A nation that had just emerged from two and a half months of onerous mass confinement was not prepared to meekly re-enter its cage. As if the brazenly fraudulent elections had not already struck a raw nerve, the gibberish of regime medical charlatans composing the pandemic Crisis Staff was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The same regime witch-doctors (parallels with Haiti just keep coming up, don’t they?) who claimed to have gotten the better of corona virus just in time to enable Vučić to hold the “elections”, days later were saying the opposite, that their voodoo hexes were useless after all and that corona was back in full force. Who can blame a weary, frustrated, manipulated, and destitute nation for exploding with loathing and fury?
The prognosis for the Fall in Serbia (no pun intended) is dismal. Economist Branko Dragaš has cogently argued that by September or October the treasury will be empty and that by then pensions and various other benefits will have to be frozen and/or greatly reduced. Since pensioners are a significant segment of Serbia’s aging population, that should in itself be enough to provoke large-scale social turmoil. But according to Dragaš what the regime has to look forward to is a double whammy. Because of the precipitous decline of the shaky economy due to the corona-associated lockdown and resulting economic dislocation, up to a million unemployed are expected to be roaming Serbia’s streets by the Fall. As Dragaš picturesquely puts it, this month the protesting Serbs were being hit in the head with police batons; in just a few months they will be hit just as hard, but in the pocketbook.
Meanwhile, the social foundations of the regime are beginning to crumble. The July 7 protests have pierced the fear barrier in Serbia. One by one individuals from all walks of life, policemen, students, medical professionals, and even former paid internet bots who have become disgusted with lying for the regime, are publicly dissociating themselves from the system and its institutions. But more importantly, entire professional groups are in rebellion. In response to the regime’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, a week ago medical doctors started a petition exposing collapsing conditions in Serbia’s public health system and demanding that the corona Crisis Staff hacks be fired and replaced with competent professionals. Initially the petition had 350 signatures, but by now, just a few days later, it has swelled to almost 3,000. The doctors’ protest is particularly brave because they are government employees. They were soon supported by 400 scientists, 300 artists, and 80 lawyers. The avalanche is gathering momentum. Nobody wants to remain aboard Vučić’s sinking ship.
To continue with the metaphor, presently the Vučić tyranny resembles a ship struck by a torpedo, which is listing badly. It may have enough momentum to keep afloat for a while, but when it is flooded with enough water it will inevitably capsize and sink to the bottom. Before that happens, the Serbian people must seize at least one high value target aboard and make sure that after a proper trial exposing his malfeasance he does not end up unpunished, on the bottom of the ocean, but here, where he belongs: