One of Belgrade’s favourite pastimes – protesting the actions of the government – is making something of a comeback.
On Sunday hundreds of Belgraders braved the chilly wind and rain to protest against the laying of a foundation stone for the Belgrade Waterfront megaproject. The city authorities responded by deploying hundreds of police officers, some kitted out in riot gear, and by closing off several streets in the Savamala district.
The street closures and the heavy police presence seemed to be designed to prevent the protestors from reaching their goal – the protest was originally intended to take place in front of the Geozavod Building in Savamala but the police line stopped the crowds by the Bristol Hotel on Karađorđeva.
The protest was organised by the Ne da(vi)mo Beograd* initiative, which has been opposed to the Belgrade Waterfront project for a year or so, due to allegations of corruption, the notion that this development is not appropriate for Belgrade and suggestions that the agreement with Abu Dhabi investor, Eagle Hills, is a raw deal for the people of Belgrade.
The Belgrade Waterfront megaproject has been billed as a multi-billion dollar investment into a brownfield site that is widely known as the Sava Amphitheatre – a large section of underdeveloped land hugging the banks of the Sava river in central Belgrade. The development focuses around the construction of luxury apartment blocks, shopping centres, offices and a central multi-purpose skyscraper on the riverbank. It has been hyped as a much needed injection of foreign capital into a city that lacks investment in everything from infrastructure to housing but a recently revealed contract between Eagle Hills and the Serbian Government has called that into question.
In spite of being prevented from approaching the Geozavod Building or walking to the site of the newly laid foundation stone, the protesters put on a lively show with choral music and talks explaining why they oppose the Government’s plans interspersed with shouts of “treason”, “thieves” and “what are you afraid of?”.
At the stone laying ceremony, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said, ““Here a new city will be erected in our Belgrade. Our companies will be building it, we will employ thousands of people. This is not a dream any more, it is reality.”
A small counter-protest was organised by the ruling Progressive Party and attended by party members bussed in from outside of Belgrade.
* Ne da(vi)mo Beograd, literally ‘let’s not drown Belgrade’ is a play on the Serbian title of the Belgrade Waterfront project (Beograd na vodi) and also an allusion to the slogan ne damo Beograd, which translates as something like ‘We won’t give Belgrade away’.