Whether people are protesting against air and water pollution or against the state’s poor response to the coronavirus epidemic, the message from the authorities is always the same – “all these protests have a political aim, i.e. the intention is to undermine the power of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).
Similarly, the recent demonstrations against environmental pollution were called a ‘gathering against the government’, although the protesters themselves said that they were not driven by political intentions, but by the idea of informing the public about environmental risks.
While the citizens were protesting, the Minister of Environmental Protection, Irena Vujović, was quick to label the weekend’s rally as “political”, assessing that a “political protest organised by individuals who are trying to score political points through environmental issues” was taking place, adding that the citizens who were truly interested in the quality of the environment were being deceived.
“People see everything and they know that this political group has no other objective than to weaken the state and bring down economic growth and living standard,” she said.
Shortly afterwards, PM Ana Brnabić also said that the “environmental riot” was an example of disrespect and that it was a politically motivated meeting. The next day, she explained that the protest “was not political, but politicised”.
In late June last year, when she and Health Minister Zlatibor Lončar visited Novi Pazar, then the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, where they a group of citizens shouted and booed them, thus reflecting the town’s dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the epidemic.
On the occasion, Brnabić said that the situation in Novi Pazar was no different from other places where the coronavirus had broken out, and that the difference was that it had not become politicized like in Novi Pazar.
According to Dejan Bursać of the Institute for Political Studies, the term ‘political’ has become a way of discrediting every protest and rebellion, although in a democratic society every meeting has that prefix.
“In the language of this regime, protests have become a way to discredit, are always somehow linked to the opposition parties and their aim is to destabilise the country,” explains Bursać. According to him, the final message the government sends to its sympathisers is “don’t listen to what these people say, because they have other alterior motives”.
“When you wipe out the entire opposition, local initiatives unite around various issues such as ecology. Whatever rally you organise, whether it is a demand for better public transport, better environmental protection or protests over electoral laws, it is all politics. However, the government always tries to spin the term into something negative,” Bursać points out.
Political scientist and communication expert Nikola Parun says that the government, with its reactions to the protests, is trying to discourage people who are not politically aware from rebelling.
“Of course every protest is political and I don’t see any problem in protesting when something is politically negative,” he notes, adding that this creates an artificial tension between “a real need and something that is being politicised”.
This post is also available in: Italiano