First, as they have done every night since the state of emergency began, at 8pm, the citizens applauded the medical professionals fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Then, as they have done for the past several nights, five minutes after the applause, the citizens protested against the current government by banging pots and pans.
At 8.30 pm, a terrifying response to the rebellious citizens followed, orchestrated by the President Aleksandar Vucic. He glowed with happiness and vengeful fervor while talking about his successes in the fight against the corona virus and in the economy on RTS, with the obligatory assurances of his great love for Serbia, which he loves the most and above all, because he knew what was happening in the city. In the midst of the curfew and the state of emergency (proclaimed through a de facto coup), he struck again by sending his hooligan phalanx, led by MP Vladimir Djukanovic, nicknamed Djuka, to light torches on the rooftops of apartment buildings. “Hey, hey, Djilas, give us back the money, you thief” was played on the sound system. Five skyscrapers on Banovo Brdo were covered in smoke and burned bright as a gigantic pyre. And the same thing happened in several places around Belgrade. This imminent fire hazard directly endangered the lives of citizens. Vucic had only one idea – to defeat the rebelling citizens 10:0, so that they never think about banging pots against his government again. It made him angry. We’ve already experienced a traumatic arson at the embassies. Both back then and now, these fires were organized by the government. Vucic couldn’t stand the banging (is his tolerance level really so low!), so he decided to respond tenfold, in the style of Emperor Nero. You may bang the pots, but I’ll burn your rooftops! And if you continue with the banging, more than rooftops might burn.
While the citizens have been confined to their homes for six weeks now, state hooligans littered the streets in the middle of a curfew (which was documented with photos on social media) and headed to the rooftops to light torches. I can only imagine how the people in those buildings felt. It became clear that there is no red line that the president would not cross; he is unable to restrain his vengeful nature and desire to humble and annihilate his disobedient subjects.
His phalanxes spread like wildfire across the rooftops of apartment buildings, buildings inhabited by citizens who publicly, by banging pots, showed their resentment for this government and the way they have been treated during the pandemic. It may be foolish to ask whether the hooligans will be held liable and punished, because by law that would have to happen. The police were nowhere to be seen. Filing a criminal complaint is possible and called for, but we know that all our courts, from the constitutional to misdemeanor, are no longer open.
After this chilling event, and even before that, it bothered me that there was no plan on how to get out of this situation where one cannot live normally. Vucic is destroying all of us and our country. I realized that some pieces had to be moved, as well as that some blockages were put in place by ourselves, while some appeared by accident. I realized that the opposition itself and its actions must change. This “Kristallnacht” with flaming buildings full of imprisoned people not only once again showed all the perversions of Aleksandar Vucic’s reign, but unexpectedly (in fact unknowingly) showed that the opposition as personified by Savez za Srbiju (Alliance for Serbia) was not the solution. That they are a problem in themselves. They cannot be an alternative by any political and logical criteria. Such an opposition is a factor of our hopelessness and, therefore, must change. That had to be said. And the night of Vucic’s fiery madness was just the moment to say it.
In conclusion. The hopelessness in which Serbia finds itself comes not only from Vucic, who is, of course, the main problem, but also from the incompetent opposition in the form of Savez za Srbiju. Research shows that SzS leaders are unpopular, some have already served in the government, some have a bad reputation, and almost all are without leadership talent, without political ideas, plans, and strategies for putting an end to Vucic’s reign. As a conglomerate of different ideological parties and groups, they are not a clear political alternative. This is a politically illogical group of losers who we believed was only a short-term alliance of convenience, the best we could do at that moment, in order to advocate for decent electoral conditions. It turned out to be a coalition that makes decisions by consensus and puts the unity of the Alliance first. This was evident during their entry into the national assembly which had just met with regards to the state of emergency. That is why the alliance could not separate local and national elections (which is commonplace everywhere) and help local communities fight for their living space, because boycotting elections practically only makes sense at the national level. Without people in the local assemblies, no party can ever win elections at the national level. Holding a boycott at all levels as the only binding idea is a bad position. Whenever elections are held, local communities should participate in them, regardless of the decision of the opposition on participation in elections for the national parliament. If the election is not postponed to the fall, we are likely to have a quick and dirty election in June, which people would have to drag themselves to practically out of their sickbeds and house arrest. And which would really be simple theft.
Therefore, if elections are not postponed, which is most likely, the opposition justifiably won’t be able to regroup and prepare for them. Which is all the more reason why common sense should prevail: let people organize themselves freely for elections in their local communities. A flexible stance on this would be an indicator of whether those parties (or some of them) will be able to move away from the dead boycott and change their political perspective to some new and logical coalitions. Some will probably give up and disappear.
I’ve known this for some time now, but we are constantly politically so poor and lacking in manpower, that I did not have the heart to stand up to the people who really are trying to fight against Vucic, some of whom are truly worthy. However wrong they may be to be part of the Alliance, they deserve respect, for they truly went through thick and thin, the horrible insults, the lies, the torture, the persecution, the humiliation and the risk. But this Kristallnacht, that rooftop pyre, has created a new and urgent state. The opposition needs to change. We can and must organize ourselves much better; what we have now is extortion and improvisation, but the time for that has passed. Another time has come and we need to be prepared for it if we are to end Vucic’s tyranny once and for all.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).