Ready for a new year of fighting, because the Dark is afraid of us! Whose city? Our city!
We started 2016 with this message. A year of the fight against a serious threat to our city. Still, back then, none of us could imagine how thick the slurry would become, how polluted with corruption, unscrupulousness, and arrogance the Belgrade Waterfront is, and, on the other hand, how fragile and corroded the dam consisting of the law, experts, free media, and institutions that is supposed to keep our society safe is.
2015 was a year of citizens awakening and gathering around an idea of resistance against arbitrariness and arrogance personified by the Belgrade Waterfront project. We gathered and published information on the project’s flaws, organized many protests, displayed the duck for the first time after Lex Specialis was adopted, protested when the license of an illegal stand in Savamala expired, protested again against the signing of the contract in the former Geozavod building and again after the construction started, while half of Belgrade was blocked and protest participants arrested.
Institutions, information and networking
The beginning of 2016 was characterized by a continuation of the institutional fight against the Belgrade Waterfront project and networking with other initiatives. We filed complaints against illegal construction, the setting up of masts all over the city, the illegal Savanova stand which was built without a permit. We were forbidden from asking questions as journalists at the Sava promenade by the communal police, which prompted the Ombudsman’s recommendation for replacement of the chief of communal police. This only resulted in a cynical reply that future actions will be implemented in accordance with the law.
We published the second issue of „Ne da(vi)mo Beograd“ newspapers, featuring articles on key fraudulent mechanisms of the Belgrade Waterfront project. We analyzed the contract on investment, project’s cost-effectiveness, monitored violations and changes of the laws to suit the investors. We supported the protests „Popravka ili ostavka“, protest of residents of Stepa Stepanovic neighborhood and the protest of pensioners. We established contacts with initiatives all over Serbia, especially Nis and Kraljevo.
Elections and the night of demolition
While their friends from the Emirates laid the ground stones, Savamala was blocked and any protest was impossible. However, during the night, the citizens used the road signs to welcome visitors to Belgrade WaterFraud.
Earlier this year, the governing party decided to add parliamentary elections to local and regional ones. We saw just how unscrupulous SNS is when, as we later found out, their members submitted fake election lists for two municipalities, which were supposed to mislead the voters into thinking that they represent the “Ne davimo Beograd” initiative. We presented the evidence on this and on forging citizens’ signatures at the press conference and we also submitted them to the Election commission.
The extent of irregularity of the elections was clear on April 24th, when we saw the photographs of the mayor of Belgrade casting his vote before the sunrise into an unsealed box with no control ballot. We don’t know what he did the night before that made him look so exhausted, but since April 24th we’ve been asking about his accountability for what happened in Belgrade a couple of hours later. We reported on the demolition in Hercegovacka street by men in balaclavas on our Facebook page. The Ombudsman’s report demonstrated the degree of involvement of the city’s officials in anti-constitutional deprivation of freedom of citizens and failure of the police to act upon its duties.
Start of the campaign: asking about accountability
The first reaction of the city’s officials was to ignore this event; later, they tried to undermine its importance, then to deny accountability and transfer it to the institutions whose work they hindered at the same time. Everything was done in order to cover up the event and carry on with business as usual. Committed to determine the accountability and prevent the cover up, the Initiative started a campaign and called citizens to protest. More and more citizens of Belgrade gather during the following months, from several thousand to several tens of thousands, saying: „The masks are down“ on May 11th, „Whose city?“ on May 25th, „Our city!“ on June 11th, „You won’t get away with this!“ on June 25th and „Belgrade is not small“ on July 13th.
Our demands were simple and clear: we asked for those responsible for an obvious crime. The protests weren’t influenced by any party, we hosted speakers from all parts of society, from professors and journalists to actors and activists, while politicians from the opposition walked together with the citizens. A great number of writers supported the initiative by contributing to the publication „Whose city?“ published by Kontrast publishing and Danas dedicated an entire issue to the „Savamala dossier“. We also received support from abroad, including Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement, and Barcelona en comu, represented by the Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.
However, the smear campaign of the regime tabloids also gained strength and presented the protests as part of the global conspiracy against the government. Making protests organizers legitimate targets, intimidating people, following and listening-in on communication started.
Continuation of the campaign with different means
The protests and their publicity prevented the government from covering up the case and the public pressure forced it to publicly admit that Belgrade officials were involved in the event, but it wasn’t enough to end the Belgrade Waterfront project and punish the culpable. We continued to share the information on the harm and illegality of this project by organizing events and actions to remind the government that its every move is monitored and that those responsible would have to be punished.
As a symbolic act against the violence of the city officials and their armies, we brought 200 kilos of watermelons in front of the communal police headquarters in Belgrade. None of the communal officers came out, clearly understanding their accountability. They, however, filed misdemeanor charges against us. Later on, several hundreds of citizens gather in front of the City hall to hand in the notice to the mayor and the president of the city assembly. Private security and police prevented us from doing this, using violence. We were there when the last family was forcefully moved out of Savamala, ready to show solidarity with those whose rights are most endangered.
In order to remind the government that the citizens don’t forget and don’t give up, we organized new protests titled „No fear, no surrender!“ on September 29th, with about 15,000 people, as well as a protest concert on October 20th, the Day of liberation of Belgrade.
The initiative supported the protests „Support RTV“, which started in Novi Sad at the same time as those in Belgrade as a reaction to firings at RTV after the change in local government. Cooperation with initiatives and organizations from many cities in Serbia has continued during the past months, which resulted in establishment of the Citizens’ front.
The Initiative actively sought volunteer and financial support to organize the protests. We regularly published overviews of donations and expenditures. This was the only possible reply to the millions of dollars mentioned by the prime minister in every press conference. With this, the Initiative established a new standard in financial transparency of political organizations.
Widening the fight
After new discoveries on the harm done by the Belgrade Waterfront contract, which gave away city land and historical landmarks to a private company without any obligations, we are working on a law suit to annul the contract. At the same time, we initiated a court proceeding against the tabloid Informer, joining many people who found themselves on Informer’s kill list. The legal part of our fight will continue.
We also witnessed the European Commission omitting the problems which became central to our life in this city from their report. We understood that we should rely on ourselves and not expect any outsider to solve our problems; now, we are on our way to making these ideas come true. Together with local organizations and by learning from experiences of other European cities, we’re working on the platform which would truly represent the citizens’ political interests, instead of the corrupt political-economic elite. We’re widening the network of interested citizens which are becoming actively involved.
Now, after everything we saw in the past two years, we can ascertain that the Hercegovacka demolition was not an incident, but a manifestation of the dangerous arbitrariness of a gang close to the government, and a politics of arrogance and anarchy which bends and stomps all over our country’s laws to serve its own interest. Just like they demolished institutions and the legal system when they got in their way, they stomped all over buildings and people in Hercegovacka. However, after they were caught in the act, the citizens, journalists, lawyers who refuse to be silent are now under pressure from smears, threats, and blackmail.
The end of the year is the time of reckoning, and the balance of Belgrade authorities is a pile of rubble. No matter how hard you try to move on to new projects, musical fountains, fraud on the water and dry land, only ruins remain. They demolished both day and night, destroying buildings and institutions, destroying the past and the future. Hercegovacka is their image: para-state formations implementing the project of national importance by night, the police not responding to citizens’ cries for help, and the government manipulating responsibility, the public, and the truth.
Hercegovacka is also our reality. We live in the ruins of our lives, human and social rights, in the pile of rubble which is all that’s left of the legal state. But, we are also those who must rise above the ruins. They can demolish a lot of other things, but we have no other city and no other country. Hence, our city is our fight and the New Year is our year!
Ne da(vi)mo Beograd initiative
Translated by Marijana Simic