After a couple of years of street protests and direct action, grassroots initiative Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd/Don’t let Belgrade d(r)own is running in the city elections. They are trying to bring the city back to its citizens and to join the club of rebel cities alongside Barcelona and Naples.
The announcement of the “Belgrade Waterfront” project was made by Aleksandar Vucić during his campaign for city elections in 2012. After he lost the city but won the Parliamentary elections, “Belgrade Waterfront” was presented as a project of the highest national importance, which would transform Belgrade into a modern capital and create thousands of new jobs. Through this project, the area around the coast of Sava river would be transformed into an area for luxury hotels, expensive apartments, and shopping malls.
The project was to be implemented through a partnership with investors from the United Arab Emirates, previously known for scandals and manipulation. To this end, the state gave the land to Arab investors and the Parliament passed a lex specialis, a special law which would enable the land’s expropriation to go ahead. While the City Government is imposing austerity measures at the local level and cutting benefits for its poorest citizens, it is giving land away to foreign investors and wasting ridiculous amounts of money on New Year’s lighting (from October until April), fancy fountains and other totally gratuitous decorations, predictably provided by a variety of shady “partners”.
From the very beginning, Ne da(vi)mo Beograd aimed to show the public that this was a terrible gentrification project, one that will highjack the city’s jewel in the crown from its citizens, kick out its residents and transform it into a place for the domestic and foreign elites to enjoy their exclusionary life of luxury. This project was also created with utmost disregard for urban planning and architecture, as the Serbian Academy of Architects has amply demonstrated.
Their Initiative first took legal action, submitting over 2,000 complaints in the process, all of which were dismissed. After that, they organized street protests in order to raise the attention of the general public, since there were no voices willing to be critical of this project in the government-controlled media. The first protest was organized on the very day of signing the contract for the “Belgrade Waterfront” in 2015.
These protests were covered only by several alternative media and social media, while in the mainstream outlets they were either not mentioned at all or at best downplayed. Media most loyal to the regime immediately started to portray their critics as traitors and foreign agents trying to destabilize the country. They were sabotaged in every possible way: harassed, followed, prosecuted and even received personal threats of violence.
Since neither legal actions nor protests yielded any concrete results, other than raising awareness, the next logical step for the Initiative is to run for the upcoming city elections. Similar to DiEM25, Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd does not want to become another political party, but rather to create a structure which will enable citizens to engage in the politics of this, and make decisions about their own future. Also, they have shown that they are not interested in any political calculations and have distanced themselves from both the governing and opposition parties who share essentially the same neoliberal policy.
Elections will take place on March 4, and even though they are facing enormous pressure plus a media blackout, we hope that they will enter the City Parliament, which would constitute just the first small steps in this major struggle for the life of our city and our country.
Members of DSC Belgrade supported the Initiative from its beginning, their ideas and actions being completely in line with our Manifesto. We’ve supported them on the streets and developed an honest and fruitful cooperation over time. Right now, in the campaign, DSC Belgrade is providing support for them in terms of logistics and ideas. During the creation of the electoral platform, members of DSC Belgrade will be contributing by working out how we could implement ideas from the European New Deal at the local level.
Aleksandar is member of DSC Belgrade.
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