Ever since the mass civic protests against violence began, the supreme generator of aggression, Aleksandar Vučić, has been trying in every possible way to discredit them. He personally and individually embarked on this task, pouring verbal fire on the demonstrators in his regular, almost daily addresses. Hyenas, vultures, scum, Ustaše - these are just some of the lovely names Vučić uses to address the protest participants, and then he calls for dialogue and unity at this crucial moment when Serbia, as usual, is pressed from all sides, although this pressure cannot be seen with the naked eye, nor is a microscope helpful.
The president has also engaged numerous propaganda operatives who have stretched their defamatory and slanderous talents to the extreme, relentlessly targeting the honest people who have grown tired of Vučić's autocracy and the resulting total social collapse. Some of them spend their entire day on TV Pink, from dawn to dusk, and have become part of the scenery, difficult to distinguish from pieces of furniture, as they have blended into the environment like true chameleons, adapting to any surface.
Vučić has mobilized all his servile forces, tabloid editors, the Prime Minister, the President of the Assembly, Members of Parliament, ministers, party officials, and ambitious members of the progressive youth, and they have all enthusiastically joined in demonising the opposition and protest participants.
People's Patrols at the Protest
The President of Serbia has never believed in the message of the Color Revolution program, "Words speak for themselves/they are enough for you." He is much closer to another line from the same song, "You are the threatening hand." And a threatening hand sometimes knows how to swing and strike. In addition to verbal aggressors, physical force has also been engaged to discredit and disrupt the protests, specifically embodied in the People's Patrols.
A few weeks ago, members of this association first attempted to snatch a banner with the inscription "Stop Femicide," and then one of the patrol members attacked a girl who was recording it all, trying to take her mobile phone. Many people on social media recognized the said aggressor, prompting opposition leaders to call on the police to arrest him. The law enforcement authorities, of course, did not react, and it is not difficult to guess why.
During last Saturday's protests, the patrol members were even more radical. This time, masked attackers assaulted an American citizen in front of the National Assembly, with one of them hitting him in the face with a baton. Miodrag Gavrilović, a member of the Democratic Party, intervened to protect the unfortunate American, but he ended up with a bruise under his eye and received several blows from plainclothes police officers, and that was the end of it. The police arrested both the patrol member and the American citizen, filing misdemeanour charges against them for disturbing public order and peace, and against the American for failing to report his stay in Serbia. The patrol member was sentenced to 15 days in prison, while the American citizen received 30 days, which speaks volumes about our situation and where we stand.
The People's Patrols are a right-wing organization that gained notoriety for intercepting and mistreating unfortunate migrants. That's their main activity: protecting Serbia from refugees who have no intention of staying in the country. Their founder and leader is Damnjan Knežević, who turned to patrolling after being removed from his position in the Serbian Chetnik Movement party, where he served as vice president and one of the founders. The People's Patrols are closely associated with the Wagner Group, and Knežević visited the Wagner Center in St. Petersburg in November of last year.
In addition to the People's Patrols, Vučić has at his disposal a whole range of similar formal and informal groups, as well as various unaffiliated suspicious individuals, who serve as his praetorian guard. The state leadership doesn't even hide that they rely on various baton-wielding groups. During the May protests by farmers, one such group was sent to Pančevo to disperse the gathered tractor drivers so that Vučić could arrive undisturbed for the scheduled party rally.
Immediately after that operation, a video appeared on social media showing Novak Nedić, the Secretary-General of the Government of Serbia, proudly leading a column of muscular men dressed in black, resembling some kind of SA unit, as they left a raft on the Tamiš River. Last year, the weekly magazine NIN wrote about the connections between Novak Nedić and the fan group of Veljko Belivuk, which had evolved into a powerful criminal gang. And nothing happened to anyone.
Moreover, why would there be any reaction from the authorities when we know that members of Belivuk's group worked as security at the inauguration of President Aleksandar Vučić in 2017, they were so diligent that they attacked journalists from four media outlets. The New York Times also wrote about the connections between the top government officials and the criminal underworld, and it was discussed at the State Department. The state is in cahoots with hooligan groups and uses them as needed, for example, to protect Mladić's mural in Vračar. Granted, there were also members of the People's Patrols present, but in that murky social world, it is difficult to distinguish who is a right-winger, who is a fan, who is a hooligan, who is a criminal, and sometimes all these roles merge into one person.
Extreme right-wing supporters of the Progressive Party
The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) assigns various tasks, mostly of a violent nature, to extremist individuals and groups, for which they are duly rewarded. For example, Miša Vacić, the president of the Serbian Right, regularly threatens regime opponents. He threatened Nebojša Zelenović, a member of parliament from Šabac, saying he would drown him in the Sava River, and sometimes engages in physical activities as well. He disrupted an exhibition about the Tuzla Gate at the Center for Cultural Decontamination, grabbed the microphone, and attacked the organizers. Members of his party physically assaulted political opponents at a polling station in Šabac.
The members of the organization Levijatan also engage in various acts of violence, primarily targeting regime opponents. They make threats, harass, abuse, and assault people, and these acts mostly go unpunished, for clear reasons. They present themselves as animal rights activists, although they are more inclined to protect other types of individuals, such as Zvezdan Jovanović Zmija, the assassin of Prime Minister Đinđić. Together with the foundation of the war criminal and former leader of the paramilitary unit "Knindže," Dragan Vasiljković, better known as Captain Dragan, members of Levijatan participated in collecting signatures for a petition for Jovanović's release.
Under the protection of the state
Unlike the previous two organizations, the Serbian Assembly Zavetnici mostly rely on verbal violence rather than physical force against pro-European opponents of Vučić's regime. However, all three associations have something in common. The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) assisted them in collecting signatures before elections a few years ago, and Vacić's party was also aided in winning 6.5% of the votes and entering the local parliament in Vranje during the 2019 local elections. Vacić has previously enjoyed the support of the regime and was employed by Marko Đurić in the Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija, despite being a convicted individual who was penalized for inciting hatred towards LGBT individuals, unauthorized possession of weapons, and obstructing the police from performing their duties.
Right-wing extremists in Serbia are mainly under the umbrella of the progressive structures. Even when they quarrel and bicker publicly, it is not something serious – just a minor disagreement among friends. They all serve Vučić for various purposes such as intimidating the democratic segment of society, creating an atmosphere of intolerance, hatred, and violence, and spreading chauvinistic and other divisive ideas. In short, they contribute to the further disintegration of Serbian society.
It is then not surprising that, for example, the leader of the banned Obraz Patriotic Movement, Mladen Obradović, was definitively acquitted of charges related to incitement of hatred and intolerance towards the LGBT community. His organization operated for some time despite the ban and now continues to function peacefully within the framework of the new association called the People's Initiative "Rise for Kosovo." It is also not surprising to see him appearing at protests against violence if incidents need to be provoked.
Party officials with hammers
In addition to these extremist groups, the progressives rely on local mafia figures, especially when it comes to controlling the electoral process. During every election, various suspicious individuals in black SUVs visit polling stations, intimidate voters, force certain votes, and ensure that the imitation of a democratic process leads to the desired result – another illegal and illegitimate victory for Aleksandar Vučić and his gang of national locusts.
There isn't even a clear boundary between party officials and the praetorians; often, they are one and the same individuals. In November 2021, when a protest rally was organized in Šabac, various dubious individuals armed with excavators, clubs, and hammers attacked peaceful demonstrators. It quickly became evident that among the attackers, alongside worn-out criminals, were respected party, local, and state officials from the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). The excavator was operated by SNS activist Nebojša Stojićević Jarin, and among the assailants were the deputy mayor of Šabac, Vladimir Mićić, and former parliamentarian Aleksandar Peranović. During the day, these individuals peacefully sit in their offices, presumably performing some grey bureaucratic tasks. But when the party calls, they don a grey hood, grab the first weapon at hand, and disperse demonstrations like professional thugs.
Underworld in Power
The dark picture needs a few more strokes with a brush dipped in pitch black. "Jovanjica," the largest marijuana plantation in Europe, was a state project. Vučić publicly defended its owner, Predrag Koluvija, and assigned Vladimir Đukanović, a member of parliament and high-ranking official of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), as his lawyer. In Kosovo, Vučić relies on Milan Radoičić and Zvonko Veselinović, who are suspected by the Kosovar authorities of the murder of Oliver Ivanović. Veselinović has been arrested multiple times for various criminal offences, and on one occasion, over three kilograms of heroin were found in his car.
Former State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Dijana Hrkalović, was arrested on suspicion of tampering with evidence after the murder of Vlastimir Milošević on the tram tracks. She is also suspected of being a member of a criminal group. And who is her lawyer? You guessed it, Vladimir Đukanović. Hrkalović had accused her boss, former Minister of Police Nebojša Stefanović, of collaborating with the mafia. Stefanović was ousted in a party showdown as he was also suspected of wiretapping Vučić. The president's son moves in circles of criminal elements, yet his father shows no concern for his safety.
Old Serbian Tradition
We could continue listing examples, but we have to stop somewhere. If there are ever radical changes in Serbia, if we become even slightly civilized, investigative authorities will have their hands full. The Serbian Progressive Party emerged from the Serbian Radical Party, and it all originated from the paramilitary, underground, hooligan milieu. It's only natural that the president of the country gathers around him a praetorian guard composed of various individuals who, in a normal country, would be of interest to the police.
One could argue that Vučić is nurturing an old Serbian tradition. As Ivan Janković writes, in the first half of the 19th century, Karađorđe, Miloš Obrenović, and other noblemen had bodyguards officially known as "momci." "They were legendary for their cruelty and arrogance and instilled fear and awe wherever they appeared. (...) From the beginning, momci were the iron fist of arbitrary power personified in the Vožd or Gospodar. Their main function was to instil fear in the bones, not only of political opponents but also of the 'people' in general, the people as a whole," writes Janković. Any resemblance between Vučić's thugs and present-day Serbia is intentional.