The period of unrest across the Balkans shows no immediate sign of slowing down after more protests erupted across the region this weekend.
Journalists protested in the Croatian capital of Zagreb on Saturday in defence of media freedom- something they say is increasingly endangered by political pressure and numerous lawsuits designed to intimidate and silence. Over the last couple of years, thousands of lawsuits have been filed against investigative journalists by members of government and the judiciary resulting in a situation where many feel the legal system is being abused to cover up instances of corruption and government wrongdoing.
Also on Saturday, over 10,000 members of the public marched through the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica for the fourth time in as many weeks. Protestors chanted “Milo, thief” in reference to the allegations of corruption, nepotism, criminal links, and lack of media freedom lodged against President Djukanovic who has ruled the country for almost 30 years. They demanded his resignation along with the Prime Minister, Supreme Sate Prosecutor, and the Chief Prosecutor for Organised Crime.
These most recent protests come after weeks of unrest in Tirana where tens of thousands of people have protested against allegations of rigged elections and evidence of links between government members and organized crime gangs. Tear gas has been used on protestors on two of the three occasions after incidents of minor vandalism were reported. Another protest is scheduled for Tuesday the 8th of March week and Opposition MPs remain steadfast in their pledge to resign their mandates from Parliament in the hopes of triggering a “free and fair” election.
In Serbia, opposition MPs have staged a similar boycott of parliament due to concerns around vote rigging and corruption. Members of the public have been protesting in Belgrade for 13 weeks and counting, against the autocratic rule of President Aleksander Vucic and the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. Vucic has refused to budge, stating that he would not give in to any criticism lodged against him, even if it came from five million people.
In Kosovo as well as Albania and Serbia, protestors have also been marching against the use and destruction of protected land, national parks, and ecologically important rivers to make way for hydropower plants. Citizens in Kosovo also recently protested about allegations of rape made against an employee of the Kosovo police.
Also planned on the 8th of March in Albania is a large protest in honour of international women’s day, with protestors calling for an end to government and police cover-ups, a lack of action, and a culture of impunity that surrounds violence against women and girls in the country. This comes after over a year of constant and ongoing protests against the demolition of the National Theatre, the residents of Astir protesting against the demolitions of their home, and the student protests that went on for over a month during the winter months.
It seems that many of the Balkan countries, most of which are vying for EU Membership, are growing tired of their governments being linked to organised crime and corruption. What is also interesting is the fact that the EU has remained silent on many of the issues raised, with many countries moving along in the negotiation process, despite the actions of hundreds of thousands of members of the public.