How the protests began
The current demonstrations in Serbia, with protest marches being held every Saturday in the capital of Belgrade and several other cities and towns in Serbia, were triggered by a physical attack on opposition politician and founder of political party Levica Srbije (Serbian Left) Borko Stefanovic by unidentified individuals at a party rally in the town of Krusevac on November 23, 2018.
Who is leading the protests
While celebrities and opposition leaders have stated time and again that this is a “civic protest” first and foremost, the Alliance for Serbia, composed of some 30 opposition parties and political movements are leading the protests, as well as several prominent political activists in the country.
Protest leaders have been criticized by some for “trying to pretend the protests are ‘civic’ and not political.” Protest leaders and many participating in the protests claim that current President of Serbia and former Minister of Information under Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in the 1990s, Aleksandar Vucic is an autocrat, often accusing his SNS (Serbian Progressive Party) party of deep corruption and intimidation of media and political opponents.
Press Freedom in Serbia
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Serbia fell 10 places in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index to 76th place – one of the greatest falls of any European country.
In their report, RSF stated, “Under President Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia has become a country where it is unsafe to be a journalist. This is clear from the alarming number of attacks on journalists that have not been investigated, solved, or punished, and the aggressive smear campaigns that pro-government media orchestrate against investigative reporters. Serbia wants to join the European Union, but for the time being it utterly fails to meet EU press freedom standards.”
U.S.-based human rights and political freedom think tank Freedom House has evaluated in their 2017 report that “freedom of expression is not well enforced even though it’s guaranteed by Serbia’s Constitution.” Freedom House also claimed that press freedom has been gradually weakened by the Vucic administration and that “independent and investigative journalists face frequent harassment, including by government officials and in pro-government media.”
Internet channels in Serbia
Due to poor mainstream media coverage of the protests and opposition politics in the country, the current protests were initially organized exclusively on social networks, email, and through word-of-mouth.
Internet penetration in Serbia stood at 67.06% in 2017 and has grown since, while over 80% of internet users in the country use Facebook, with varied frequency.
Opposition politicians, human rights groups, and activists often rely on online channels to distribute news and information.
The most popular hashtags used for live coverage and distributing information regarding the protests on Twitter and Facebook are #1od5miliona, #stopkrvavimkosuljama, and #poceloje.
#1od5miliona (#1of5million) started in response to a statement by Serbian President Vucic made shortly after the Saturday protest marches began, in which he said, “I will not meet any of the demands, even if there was five million of you.” An English version of the hashtag is also sometimes used.
#stopkrvavimkosuljama (“stop the bloody shirts”) was one of the first hashtags used and the initial motto of the protests, a reference to images of Borko Stefanovic on Twitter and later in some media immediately following the physical assault on him in Krusevac in November of 2018, in which blood from a head would could be seen on his shirt.
#poceloje (“it has begun”) is a phrase meant to allude the beginning of the end of a regime. The phrase was sometimes used during protests against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic and can occasionally be encountered in graffiti in Belgrade and other major cities in Serbia.
More on the protests in Serbia
To follow news and fact-checking of media coverage regarding the protests in Serbia, follow our blog or reach out to our team here or on social media.