Protests in Serbia turn violent over government’s handling of lockdown

Pratik Purswani, International Affairs Officer

Riots erupted in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, for the second day in a row in response to President Aleksander Vučić’s announcement to re-impose a weekend-long curfew to counter a surge in coronavirus cases.

Thousands of locals, including students, families and citizen movement groups gathered outside the parliament to peacefully protest against the management of the coronavirus crisis. The demonstrations quickly morphed into a wider expression of frustration over the government’s decision in early May to prematurely lift restrictions in order to make way for political rallies and parliamentary elections. The decision allowed reopening of restaurants, bars and night clubs to operate at full capacity. Serbia also allowed large public sporting events to go ahead, while the infection rates were still on the rise and healthcare infrastructure under pressure.

On July 8, the protests turned violent when a large group of people involving far-right nationalists, anti-vaccine campaigners and anti-5G conspiracists entered the assembly building of the parliament. The police responded with indiscriminate use of tear gas, baton beatings and stun grenades, while security forces deployed armored transporters, police and dogs. Human rights groups have accused the authorities of disproportionate use of force on peaceful protestors.

Due to rising tensions, president Vučić has backtracked on plans to re-impose the lockdown restrictions. Diluted measures, such as a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, have been announced instead.