Anja Petrovic reports from Dokufest on “Everyday Rebellion” in the region.
Activists from Belgrade, Skopje and Prizren took part in a DokuFest panel entitled “Everyday Rebellion” on Wednesday, in which they discussed their shared experiences fighting corruption in the region.
Ksenija Radovanovic was present as a representative of the initiative “Ne davimo Beograd”, a movement which opposes the Belgrade Waterfront development project and the corrupt machinations behind its implementation. She noted that the initiative has gathered much public attention and support in recent months, and has attracted many thousands of people to protests against the speculative project. On the night of Serbia’s elections in late April, in the center of the nightlife district of Savamala, buildings were demolished on a hundred-acre development site and several passersby were tied up by men in masks. Government officials denied that there was anything unusual about the late-night demolitions and ignored accusations of illegal and violent actions against the city and its citizens. Protesters then took to the streets, calling for the resignation of city and state officials who they accused of involvement in the demolitions, also addressing broader issues around the project, which has been deemed “a project of national significance” by the authorities. But Belgrade Waterfront seems to be doing the very opposite, giving away land to Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s “friends” from the United Arab Emirates, breaking and altering laws, and ignoring public input and concerns about the project.
Artan Sadiku from Solidarnost spoke about the evolution of social movements in Skopje, which have transformed from reactionary and ethnic demonstrations in the 1990s and the beginning of 2000s, to protests that tackle a range of social issues, including workers’ rights and the utilization of public space. Several leftist organizations were initially leading the movement, but starting in 2009 a couple of NGOs began adopting the protests as a means of advancing their advocacy work. Soon, opposition parties also wanted to join the anti-government protests. Sadiku said he views the divisions and negotiations between these various groups as an issue of central importance for the movement, which has not made any claim to power but rather aims to build sustainable social networks capable of remobilizing after the initial wave of anti-government protests settles down, thus creating a culture of “everyday rebellion”. Sadiku explained that social change is visible as citizens have embraced activism rather than limiting their civic engagement to the ballot box.
Hajrulla Ceku spoke on behalf of the organization “EC Ma Ndryshe” in Prizren, which advocates for active citizenship and tackles issues of community, democracy and cultural life throughout Kosovo. Ceku noted that despite regular commentary about the supposed apathy prevalent in society, people have been increasingly engaged in activism. According to Ceku, the bigger problem lies elsewhere. Authorities and media have aimed to downplay the importance and legitimacy of protests by focusing on the number of participants. He gave as an example an event which occurred two months ago in Prizren. Due to institutional neglect, an old house collapsed and took the life of a three-year-old girl who was playing in the street in front of it. Protesters blamed the state for the incident. Since the number of people who responded to the call to the street the next day was not massive, the protest was declared a failure, “as if the small number of [protesters] legitimized criminal actions by the government,” Hajrulla said.
Moving forward, the major challenges for all three initiatives are much the same: building a local as well as regional support network, and combating the threat posed by officials, opposition parties, and other organizations which aim to divert and co-opt the movements.
Anja Petrovic is a graduate of urban studies (MA), education activist, freelance graphic designer and photographer.
DokuFest, International Documentary and Short Film Festival, is the largest film festival in Kosovo. Each year the festival fills the cinemas and improvised screening venues around historic city center of Prizren with a selection of more than 200 hand picked films from around the world.
Photo credit: Somer Spat/Dokufest