“I would like to recommend to Aleksandar Vučić that without fulfilling the demands of the protest, as well as defining the election conditions acceptable to the opposition, he should not call the elections,” says Dragan Djilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (SSP), in an interview for Nova.
He adds that the support for SNS has been plummeting and that the government has reached an impasse, as well as that its representatives will bear responsibility for their words and actions much faster than they think.
Nova: At Serbia against Violence protest, it was announced that the protest will take a new form, while activist Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta said that the protesters will block bridges and roads across the country if the government fails to fulfil the opposition’s demands by Thursday. Is that finally agreed?
Djilas:” Support for the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is plummeting, because the protests and everything that is happening to us has demonstrated the absolute incompetence of the government, but also a complete lack of empathy towards the citizens who are horrified both by the tragedies that happened to us and by the enormous violence that overwhelmed us. For the first time in many years, most people believe that Serbia is not going in the right direction – the problems with security are coupled with the perception of the high level of corruption and crime, as well as growth in prices which is not accompanied by adequate wage growth. All of that plus the number of people who support the demands of the protest is more important than any political statements.
All the political parties, who are technically the organizers of the protest, have agreed to present their common positions to the public, as well as to present the idea of the next protest on Wednesday. That’s why I see Ćuta’s attitude as his personal opinion. The key thing here is that we listen to the wishes of the citizens and that they and their ideas are the essence of the protest itself.
Nova:” Nebojša Zelenović, co-president of the Zajedno party, said that if elections are called, his choice would be not to participate in them. What is your stance? Would a new election boycott bring anything good to the opposition and the citizens alike?”
Djilas:”It is vital (for the government) to first accept the demands of the protesters and thus start the fight against violence in our society. This is the most important thing for everyone who lives in Serbia, regardless of who they vote for and whether they vote at all. After that is done, we can talk about the political crisis, which is always resolved by elections. New election conditions must be properly defined, as well as the time when they are going to take place. What needs to change when it comes to election conditions is clear from the OSCE report on the previous election, as well as from the annual report compiled by the European Parliament. I would like to recommend to Aleksandar Vučić that without fulfilling the demands of the protest, as well as defining the election conditions acceptable to the opposition, he should not call the elections.”
Nova:” Relations in the opposition seem to be better than ever, both when it comes to protests and to the opposition’s activities in the Serbian Parliament. Does this mean that in the next elections, if the opposition does not consolidate, there will be no mutual conflicts like there were before and after the previous elections?”
Djilas:” Representatives of the opposition parties are organizing the protests, including the Freedom and Justice Party and they have very clearly told the citizens that ideological differences, vanity, and political struggles are put aside and that we all stick to the principles we agreed on. As a man who since the day of his return to politics advocates for a united opposition, it makes me happy when I see how the opposition MPs in the Assembly support each other and often do not sit in the seats reserved for a particular group of MPs, but next to and behind the one who is speaking, in order to show support for that MP to endure all the insults they are subjected to by SNS deputies.”
Nova:”Vučić has called for dialogue and reducing tensions, while MPs from SNS have continued to insult opposition MPs, as well as actors who supported the protests. The Vice-Speaker of the National Assembly, Sandra Božić, called (the actor) Milan Marić “anti-Serb garbage”. Considering all these circumstances, is it possible to have any kind of conversation with Vučić and the government?”
Djilas:” The behaviour of the MPs from SNS and their spokespersons shows that they do not understand people in Serbia at all, that they do not have an iota of responsibility for what they are doing and that they continue to incite hatred and violence in Serbia. And that is exactly what the people rose up against. Since the two tragedies that happened recently, the government representatives talk only about themselves and their successes, unaware of the fact that Serbia still hasn’t come out of the tragedies that happened just a month ago.
A year ago, I agreed to speak with the President of Serbia, asking for new Belgrade elections, but more importantly, asking for reducing aggression and tension in society, aware of what this can lead to. The political price I paid is not important. It is important that my appeal was rejected and that Serbia paid a huge price. Now there are no talks with Vučić, because first the demands of the protest must be fulfilled and only then we can move towards the normalization of the situation in society. After all, the “sincerity” of this call for dialogue is best demonstrated by what the representatives of the regime say every day about all of us who are protesting.”
Nova:” In addition to insults, Serbian actors (who supported the protests) have also received threats protests, like actress Tamara Dragičević. Do you think all of this can deter other public figures from coming forward and supporting the protests?”
Djilas:”Intimidation of citizens and civil servants, firing people from their jobs because of their social media posts and especially making threats to children are characteristic of autocratic regimes. If such messages are sent by the SNS authorities, then the model of behaviour where violence, threats and insults are acceptable, is transferred to the streets. I fully understand the concerns of Tamara Dragičević and her husband Petar Benčina, Milan Marić and other public figures who were verbally attacked because they spoke at the rally. I truly respect their courage. I think the citizens understand that the government has reached an impasse and that everyone in the government will bear responsibility for their words and actions very soon, much faster than they think.”
Nova:”Although the advisor to the US Secretary of State, Derek Chollet, said in the Senate that he believes that the New York Times article about Aleksandar Vučić’s connection with organized crime is credible and that Serbia’s credibility is being tested, Vučić, it seems, still enjoys the support of the US administration. How long will that go on?”
Djilas:”At one time, Milosevic was considered a factor of peace and stability (in the Balkans), while it was completely clear to us, citizens that he was the complete opposite of that. I would not rely on anyone’s support except the support of the citizens of Serbia and their persistence in non-violent protests, because only our joint strength can change things in Serbia.”
Photo credits: Vesna Lalic
This post is also available in: Italiano