With the signing of the “Agreement with the People” on February 6, the organizers of the 1in5 million protests have joined forces with main opposition party Alliance for Serbia. The Agreement includes the obligation to jointly fight for free media, fair elections and freedom of speech to ensure the return of democracy which has been eroded in the past few years.
Vucic and a crumbled Serbian democracy
Since 2012, Aleksandar Vucic rose from defense minister to prime minister after which he became President of Serbia in 2017. Before these shifts in the political field, Vucic served as former President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic’s minister of information, where he was responsible for fining and checking on journalists who were public opponents of the regime. As for Serbia, in recent years the country is characterised by increasing democratic backsliding. This backsliding manifest itself in the SNS dominating all aspects of Serbia’s government and society. The media is controlled, the opposition repressed and the President contributes to spreading fear among citizens. Furthermore, state institutions are to a large extent controlled by Vucic or his accomplices which makes it rather convenient for him to change the conditions of democratic values. Since the 8th of December every Saturday thousands of people marche peacefully throughout Belgrade to raise their voice against the (political) violence in the society. The opposition, the biggest group being the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) with 30 parties and organizations involved, recalled the citizens to protest against the lack of democracy in Serbia.
The social contract
As the opposition was divided for a long time – main opposition Democratic Party (DS) faced many splits – Vucic maintained room for manoeuvre to pursue his autocratic rule without being blocked by opponents. What is new, is that demonstrators have gathered together with the opposition bloc to discuss about how the latter viewed their own position of power and rule and what the consequences of future broken promises would be. The goal of this Agreement is the cooperation between the people and the politicians to make the country a state of accountability where the sharing of power is secured. It can be seen as a social contract as the foundation of a democratic Serbia. The signatories of the Agreement secured to be in the service of the people and to serve the system instead of the other way around. The opposition parties also expressed to walk out of the Serbian parliament because of the abolition of democratic principles of parliamentarism, at the same time obliging themselves to form joint candidate lists after free elections along with civil society organizations.
Future expert government
The Agreement also addressed the obligations of the future expert government, where principles of democracy will be restored and where independence of the courts is secured. Moreover, a special prosecutor for corruption, organized crime and influence trading shall be appointed. The Agreement is the way to a common aim, namely a healthy state in 21 century Europe without giving up the fundamental values of European Serbia. The Agreement also shows that no elections will be held before conditions change. Alliance for Serbia leader Dragan Djilas emphasized the need to fight together to restore democracy. According to the New Party leader Zoran Zivkovic the ultimate shared hope of the Agreement is that Vucic’s regime will be dethroned soon.
Pro-government media has mostly ignored the protests while President Vucic gathered people from all over the country to welcome President Putin in Belgrade last month to show that he stills enjoys great support. At the same time, however, opposition joining the forces and signing an agreement with the social movements involved in the protests is a worrying sign for Vucic. The President might opt for early polls but it seems the opposition will only accept those if fair and free elections can be guaranteed.