Social networks in Serbia remained sensitive on July 8 after police and plainclothes officers used force to suppress a demonstration protesting government policies against the pandemic.
The policemen dispersed the protesters gathered outside the Parliament in Belgrade with tear gas, rods, armored vehicles, attack dogs and horses. At one point in the protest, protesters pushed into Parliament but were repelled by police.
Some journalists who witnessed the dramatic events said they brought back memories of the chaotic post-election demonstrations in 2000.
Mass protests of mostly angry youth, clashes, teargas, and stampedes in Belgrade tonight. Tasted like 2000 way too much. Vučić simply refuses responsibility for disastrous measures during the pandemic, at the cost of social unrest. Peak impunity, and the outcome we all feared.
– Vujo Ilić (@vujoilic) July 7, 2020
Mass protests of angry young people, clashes, tear gas and stampedes in Belgrade tonight. It looked too much (a year) 2000. Vučić simply refuses to take responsibility for the disastrous measures during the pandemic, the cost of social unrest. Immunity at its peak, and the outcome we all feared.
The protests began the night of July 7 after the government announced a curfew over the weekend in Belgrade in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.
Protesters took to the streets to criticize how authorities have mishandled the response to the pandemic and to demonstrate against corruption.
All about the elections
Serbia's right-wing populist government promoted a narrative of returning to normal for parliamentary elections.
In a controversial move, Belgrade declared 4,000 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 “cured” on June 7, reducing the official number of active infections by up to ten times.
Epidemiologist Zoran Radovanović all the time complained that the patients had been “blotted out with a stroke of the pen, it was an administrative decision.”
Finally, when the elections were held on June 21, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won an overwhelming majority of seats.
Opposition parties boycotted the elections on the grounds that neither the Government nor the pandemic allowed conditions for a free and fair vote.
The protesters included a diversity of citizens, from left-wing students to right-wing groups, who joined without prior organization before Parliament.
za slučaj da se neko pitao koliko ljudi ima pic.twitter.com/ooHhsCjKVt
– Pru (@jprusina) July 7, 2020
In case someone wonders how many people there were…
‘Why did your father die?’
In truly populist ways, Serbian government officials first mocked the virus and often downplayed the danger. They then backed down and imposed strict quarantine measures in April, which were later fully relaxed before the elections.
A report by the Balkan Investigative Information Network (BIRN), published on June 22, indicated that the government has covered up the deaths of COVID-19. President Aleksandar Vučić dismissed the report, but his position convinced few.
For its part, the town of Novi Pazar, in the south-west of the country, has become a point of tension due to the increase in cases and the shortage of medical supplies.
Few television networks – N1 TV, Al Jazeera Balkans and Nova S – reported the protests live.
The phrase “Dad, this is for you” (Ćale, ovo je za tebe) from an N1 TV interview became the motto of the protests.
Snimak koji je obeležio večerašnji protest:
“Okay, ovo je za tebe …” pic.twitter.com/kpEK5T8dhj
– TV N1 Beograd (@ N1infoBG) July 8, 2020
Protester: Tear gas, shots fired, rods, all against unarmed youth. Dad, this is for you, that you died because there were no fans … Dad, I love you very much, I do this for you and my newborn son.
Journalist: Why did your father die?
Protester: Because there were no fans. So far I have not received your evidence. Documents say he died of a crown (virus). There were no fans available at Zemun Hospital. That according to the official report. While (the Government) boasts that we donate fans abroad. Dad, this is for you, daddy! I know you would have been proud!
Images that marked the protest tonight:
“Dad, this is for you …”.
The following day, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučićm denied the claim that the protester's father, the painter Ljubiša Đurić (71 years old), died from lack of fans. In response, the protester published his father's medical history, which he admits “lack of free places.” He has apologized to the President.
Protesters and television crews documented some of the night's most poignant scenes:
noćas su ispalili suzavac na mene, a ja sam ga sačekao na volej i vratio nazad na muriju izgleda da je neko iz mase to snimio i evo https://t.co/KvYrorOJIM
– иван__дамн (@ivan__damn) July 8, 2020
What a volleyball game. Manchester is sending scouts.
Today the police officers launched a tear gas canister at me, and I responded with a volleyball shot and returned it to them. Another protester recorded it and here I am …
– Zoran Torbica (@torbica) July 7, 2020
Policija gubi kontrolu i prebija ljude! pic.twitter.com/J7JIyCrBi1
– Ne davimo Beograd (@nedavimobgd) July 7, 2020
The police lose control and hit people.
Some Belgrade riot police seem to be beating people completely unprovoked. These three men are sitting on a bench as a column of police walk by. Some police break off from the group and beat them. The men don't fight back, they attempt to retreat, but the police continue beating. pic.twitter.com/ankJg5IkTt
– Tucker Jones (@tuckcomatus) July 7, 2020
Some Belgrade riot police appear to be beating people without provocation. These three men are sitting on a bench when a column of police officers walks by. Some police officers leave the group and beat them. The men don't respond, they try to retreat, but the police keep hitting them.
Around 3 a.m. On July 8, the police dispersed the protest, although some protesters stayed near the scene and broadcast what they had just seen.
– Zeljko Kisa (@ZeljkoKisa) July 7, 2020
I believe that the State must truthfully inform its citizens. If the state does not want, then we must compel it. That's it. That is our role in this society … I am the father of two children and I hope that they live in a better country than the country in which I grew up. It is my wish and my goal. So I am fighting. And that is the end. Thank you and goodbye.
According to data provided by the Serbian government to the World Health Organization and compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of July 8, the country had 16,719 confirmed cases and 330 deaths from coronavirus.