Coming from Serbia, but living in Germany for more than 10 years, it is easy to lose perspective. Every time I visit my home town of Belgrade I wonder if it is only my view which is getting distorted, or the country is indeed continuously deteriorating. However, it seems I am not the only one to notice that things are going south: many of my old friends still living in Serbia are unanimously talking about the general poverty with corrupt ruling party members and criminals (a thin separation line) getting shamelessly wealthy, about the failing health system with month-long waiting ques, tax evasion, job insecurity and pension cuts, about illegal construction of luxury condominiums next door to run-down neighborhoods, about the down-and-out infrastructure, etc. The official statistic is reporting a booming industry and record-low unemployment, whereas in reality as much as 10% of the working population has left the country in the past 10 years  and/or are simply not registered with the employment office. But probably the hardest part to stomach is the people’s lost dignity and general hopelessness.
Serbia has a long history of nationalist governments and of protests against it. In the best tradition of the anti-Milošević demonstrations from the early 2000s, the movement “1od5miliona” (One In Five Million) has been organizing tens of thousands of protesters every Saturday afternoon for already a couple of months . Their demands are rather straightforward: prosecution of criminals, resignations of many government officials including the president Vučić, free and transparent elections, freedom of the press, the end of the omnipresent corruption as well as a myriad of more specific demands on the local level. Although all of them are sound and deserve full support, they are by far not sufficient.
If I would mention to a friend from Serbia that his or her worker’s rights (let alone state income) are getting brutally stumped by handing a large portion of their monthly salary under-the-counter, i.e. as an unregistered cash payment, I would get a typical reply that it is indeed not optimal, but that is how the system works nowadays. Indeed, one cannot ask them to forfeit a part of their hard-earned income in favor of some obscure rights they do no remember they have ever had, to a state they do not feel is working for them. And we did not even start talking about a progressive tax rate, distribution of wealth, fading labor unions, or about subverting the local economy by dubious privatizations and by deregulating the market in favor of predatory multinational corporations, all of which are also admittedly “not optimal”. Should I mention pollution, CO2 emissions and global warming I will most probably be laughed at, and rightly so, because you simply do not think about ecology if you are barely making ends meet. This is all rooted deep in the system of keeping the middle class, such as it is in Serbia, passive and under control.
So all the while “1od5miliona” is not protesting for the wrong reasons, we should not allow the immediate problems to blind us for the global ones. While demanding the removal of a corrupt government we should not forget that the social justice has been constantly reaching new lows ever since the Balkan wars in the 90s. On the way towards the rule of law we should not ignore the overwhelming tendency of pushing the people out of the decision-making process that establishes the law. While this is obvious in the case of Serbia and similar countries, it is by no means exclusive, but just a matter of a base level. For various historical reasons, the degradation of west-European democracy, social justice and public infrastructure is a process that started from a different level, but it keeps pace with eastern Europe very well. In order to keep our minds away from this problem, the free market capitalism often chooses to direct our attention towards scapegoats like refugees, minorities, external enemies or, as often the case with developing countries, towards corrupt governments which at some point get replaced by another ones with the same agenda and some buffer time to start the cycle again. As George Orwell has put it in his account of the Spanish civil war: “the war and the revolution are inseparable”, meaning that if we fight only for our freedom and not for participatory democracy and egalitarianism at the same time, we will just end up replacing one form of capitalism with another, which is what eventually indeed happened in Spain. Although an extreme case compared to modern-day Serbia, it is nevertheless a valuable history lesson to remember.
Should you support #1od5miliona? The movement organizes a large number of people in peaceful protests and every activist worldwide will tell you that organization is alpha and omega of every fight for political change. So I would say yes, support the movement and spread the word, but do not forget where the true enemy lies. Although transparency, human rights and market regulation do get mentioned from time to time, they still remain deep in the shadow of a (justified) request for a regime change. Most of the so-called political discussions are limited to petty quarrels on the level of school children about who started the fight and who is a bigger crook. One cannot even speak about a left or right orientation of a political party, ruling or opposition, because one simply never reaches a true political discussion. Do not let this or any other movement fall into that trap! Fight for regime change and the rule of law, but continue to discuss and demand social justice, otherwise you will change just the name and not the cause of the problem.