Tens of thousands of people are expected to assemble in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Friday, to show their support for President Aleksandar Vucic. This rally comes at a time when Vucic faces an unprecedented revolt against his autocratic leadership, further exacerbated by the recent crisis triggered by two shocking mass shootings that shook the nation.
Responding to Vucic’s call for what he deems “the largest rally in the history of Serbia,” his loyal supporters, clad in identical T-shirts bearing his portrait, have been transported from various parts of the Balkan country, including neighboring Kosovo and Bosnia.
State employees and individuals working in public institutions were instructed to take a day off to attend the rally, which is scheduled to take place in front of the parliament building. Some individuals claim they were warned that failing to show up on the buses, which began arriving hours before the gathering, could result in job loss.
Serbian officials assert that the rally promotes “unity and hope” for the country.
In preceding weeks, three significant anti-government protests were held in the capital, during which demonstrators not only demanded Vucic’s removal but also called for the resignation of two senior security officials. They also demanded the revocation of broadcasting licenses for two pro-Vucic television stations known for promoting violence and hosting convicted war criminals and other criminal figures.
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Opposition protesters primarily hold Vucic responsible for fostering an atmosphere of despair and division in the country, which they believe indirectly contributed to the devastating mass shootings on May 3 and May 4. These tragic incidents claimed the lives of 18 individuals and left 20 wounded, including numerous schoolchildren who were targeted by a 13-year-old classmate.
Vucic vehemently denies any responsibility for the shootings, labeling the organizers of the opposition protests as “vultures” and “hyenas” seeking to exploit these tragedies to forcefully seize power without an election.
“They are not against violence; they want my head,” he stated.
Analysts suggest that by staging this massive rally, Vucic, who has tightly controlled the country for over a decade, aims to overshadow the opposition protests through sheer numbers.
“For the first time, Vucic has a problem,” noted political analyst Zoran Gavrilovic. “His problem is not so much the opposition but the awakening of Serbian society.”
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During the rally, it is anticipated that Vucic will announce his resignation from the leadership of the Serbian Progressive Party, intending to form “a movement” that unites all “patriotic forces” in the country. Additionally, he might propose a new parliamentary election in September, although the opposition is unlikely to accept this given Vucic’s current control over all pillars of power, including mainstream media.
Vucic, a former ultranationalist with pro-Russia leanings who now aims to steer the country into the European Union, alleges that “foreign intelligence services” are behind the opposition protests. He claims to have received this information from “sisterly” spy agencies “from the east,” presumably referring to Russia.
Concerns of potential violence erupting during Friday’s rally loom large, with fears that it could serve as a pretext for cracking down on future opposition protests, including one scheduled in Belgrade on Saturday.
Similar large-scale rallies were held in Serbia during the early 1990s, when Slob