Serbians danced and sang in the streets of Belgrade on Thursday night in stark contrast to the violent anti-lockdown protests that rocked the capital the previous two nights, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on Friday.
Hundreds of citizens gathered in Serbia’s capital on Thursday evening for the third consecutive night of anti-lockdown protests. In massive demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday night, thousands of people protested Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s announcement on Tuesday that the government would reimpose a strict lockdown and curfew following a severe spike in new coronavirus cases in recent days. The protesters blamed Vučić for the new upsurge in cases after he lifted a previous coronavirus lockdown prematurely to favor a June election that saw him re-elected.
In response to Tuesday’s protests – during which citizens tried to storm Serbia’s parliament building, penetrating the lobby at one point – Vučić backtracked on his plans to reinstate a lockdown on Wednesday. Despite this, the riots continued on Wednesday night, during which “[p]rotesters … pelted the security forces with rocks, flares, and empty bottles in Belgrade. Some of them threw gas canisters back at the police,” Deutsche Welle reported.
Observers accuse Serbian police of using excessive force against protesters, who the president has dismissed as “right-wing and pro-fascist demonstrators” and “criminal hooligans.” On Tuesday, riot police sprayed crowds in Belgrade with tear gas after hundreds of people attempted to storm the parliament building. Local news footage shows police beating demonstrators, some unarmed, with batons.
By Thursday, however, the streets of Belgrade appeared to enjoy a reprieve from the violent clashes between citizens and police the previous two nights. As reported by RFE/RL’s Balkan branch, demonstrations continued for a third straight night in the capital, but this time protesters opted for a much more peaceful approach:
Most [of the hundreds of demonstrators] chose to sit on sidewalks, keeping physical distance while nationalists chanted anti-Kosovo slogans nearby. No major incidents were reported and some protesters danced to traditional Serbian music.
RFE/RL video footage captured the revelry, perhaps a celebration of Vučić’s reluctance to go through with the new lockdown in the face of Serbians’ defiance earlier in the week.