Cloudberry, photo: Kerry Christiani/Lonely Planet

There is no doubt: at two points in time, on Saturday, April 13th, there were indeed 7.5 thousand people on the plateau in front of the National Assembly, just like Vucic, Stefanovic and other prophets said. Also, it is quite certain that, between these two moments, there were at least five, if not ten times as many. There is nothing unusual about this: the number of people at the gathering site increases as they arrive and diminishes as they leave. In this regard, Vucic, Stefanovic and others could have said that there were about a hundred protesters on the square, and they would be right. At two moments, there were indeed that many.

We’ve learned that much – when they are not lying completely, Vucic, Stefanovic and others lie by telling the truth, but leaving out the context in which it gains the right meaning. For example: Vucic won the presidential election in the first round in 2017, and now he is the president; but he won this victory by stealing votes, which makes him an illegitimate president. The former can sound plausible only if the latter is absent, since victory is not a victory if it is stolen. Only when these two are taken together, it becomes obvious that, when presenting himself as a president, as well as when counting the protesters, Vucic is lying.

More important for the opposition than Vucic’s and Stefanovic’s lies about the number of protestors, is to determine why so many opponents of the regime left soon after the protest officially began. Because of this, a lot less people went on the protest walk compared to the number which came to the Assembly plateau. The number of speakers at the protest, and the length and content of their speeches, is something that the opposition would have to take seriously into account in the future, to avoid repeating the unimpressive procession of protesters seen during the walk on April 13th. Let’s say it this way – if there were fewer speakers, there would have been a lot more protesters.

But instead of having the political wing of the protest worry about this, for some incomprehensible reason, the Ambassador of Norway in Serbia – Arne Sannes Bjørnstad – pondered over it. He publicly complained that he wouldn’t be able to explain to anyone in Norway how the “Serbian opposition” differs from the authorities. This is how he said it: “I am trying to figure out exactly what unites the opposition, and what alternative or alternatives it offers. Liberal or conservative? Pro-European or anti-European? Right or left populism?” On the economic, social, and foreign policy issues, the ambassador concludes, the opposition has no common program and agreement.

Some would say that Bjørnstad is playing dumb. But, maybe he honestly doesn’t know. He doesn’t read, doesn’t listen, doesn’t observe, doesn’t inquire. One might say, he’s not doing his job, but feeling his way in the dark. Let’s help the ambassador. To understand exactly what we’re trying to say, we can first ask him – what unites people on the political scene in Norway: liberal or conservative values and programs; pro-European or anti-European attitudes; right or left populism? I see that he is looking around in disbelief and grinning doubtfully – what kind of a question is that, he wonders?

Well, the ambassador raises his voice, the whole country can’t unite around one set of values, one program, one attitude, or one populism. People differ and must be guaranteed the freedom to state their different opinions publicly. Some people in Norway are liberals, and some conservatives. Some are for Europe, and some against it. Some will respond to right populism, and others to the left. The political field, in order to be democratic, must be plural and open to different opinions around which people can gather freely. In Norway, people unite around democracy, not around a single ideology.

All right, ambassador, we understand. Now, just one more question, before we tell you how to explain to someone in Norway what the opposition and protesters in Serbia want. Are people who live Norway in any way better than the citizens of Serbia and, thus, entitled to political and other freedoms? Are these freedoms abolished in Serbia, because the local people don’t deserve them? If you think that democracy in Norway is a normal matter, while in Serbia it would be an unjustified excess, then your country, I’m afraid, was wrong to send such a racist as its representative to Serbia.

If, however, racism is completely unimaginable and unacceptable to you as a means by which to divide whole groups of people into more or less worthy, how on earth can you find it difficult to explain to someone in Norway that the opposition and the protesters in Serbia want to take back political and other freedoms that were taken from them by the current regime? Demanding basic human and political rights is a matter more elemental than division into liberals and conservatives, pro-European and anti-European citizens, and leftist or right populists. The opposition and protesters in Serbia are demanding the right to be any of these, without suffering consequences from the government.

So your question about the program of the opposition completely misses the point, just like your remark that the main problem of Serbia is Kosovo. You are wrong, Kosovo is no longer Serbia’s problem. Kosovo is now its own problem. And the main problem in Serbia is the abolition of democracy and all other freedoms, including economic ones. People in Serbia simply want to oust a usurper regime from power: the ambassador of a democratic country would have to understand that immediately, without embarrassing himself with sarcastic statements and wrong estimates. The heterogeneous, fragmented opposition in Serbia looks exactly the way a political scene should look in a decent democratic country.

And you’re telling us that the people in Norway can’t understand that. It can’t be that Norway, too, is home only to Vucics and Stefanovics. If this is the case, please feel free to stay here as long as you want and feel at home.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 24.04.2019.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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