The Cable

In Serbia, a Protest and a Presidential Run

An interview with the Belgrade mayor's ex-wife led thousands to take to the streets.

belgrade

Serbians are fed up with corrupt local officials.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Belgrade on Wednesday, Serbia’s national day of statehood, to call for the resignation of the city’s mayor, Sinisa Mali. This came two days after reports surfaced implicating Mali in the “midnight demolition” of a neighborhood last April, in which roughly 30 masked men with baseball bats knock down buildings, tying up and mistreating residents in the process.

It seems that Mali had other plans for the neighborhood, which was to become the “Belgrade Waterfront” with the help of a company from the United Arab Emirates, according to his ex-wife Marija Mali, who was interviewed by the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK). “Sinisa had the task to clean out that area because he had negotiated the construction of the ‘Belgrade Waterfront’ there with the Arabs,” Marija Mali said in the interview, which was published Monday.  

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had already said the highest city officials were involved. But after the ex-wife’s remarks came out, the prime minister tried to distance himself from the mayor, saying he’d never been in his home. The public isn’t likely to buy it: Vucic has previously called Mali a friend and the mayor served as the prime minister’s economic adviser.

Wednesday’s protests had some effect. Mali said he would not be the party’s candidate for mayor during the next elections. But he didn’t say he would step down. “Nobody resigns in Serbia,” said KRIK’s Dragana Peco, who conducted the interview with Mali. She argued that Vucic would not call on the mayor to resign because it would be tantamount to admitting a larger problem.

The protesters were also, per Peco , calling on institutions to do their jobs independent of politics. “Because in two months it will be a year after demolition. And nothing’s happened,” she said. The police who did not respond to calls from citizens on the night of the demolition have not been held responsible. The prosecutor’s office is still in the stages of “pre-investigation.”

“Institutions in Serbia, independent institutions or courts or police they just — they are not independent, they are working under control of the government,” she asserted.

If Vucic gets his way, that government will include him a little longer. He announced this week that he is running for president, which he had said he would do by the national day of statehood. “I am going from the most powerful position to one which hasn’t got a tenth of that power only to ensure continuity and stability,” he said in an interview.

But continuity of what? Peco said that, while the government seemed capable enough of dealing with Serbia’s foreign affairs, “when it comes to the basic things — like human rights — nobody’s taking care of it.”

Photo credit: OLIVER BUNIC/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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