BELGRADE – Several thousand protesters marched through Serbia’s capital on Sunday to vent anger at the cooperation agreement the country signed with NATO in February, which guarantees diplomatic immunity and freedom of movement through Serbia for NATO troops.
The troops are to uphold peace and stability in the region in exchange.
“We think it is hypocrisy to say that NATO will guarantee stability and security to our people in Kosovo and Metohija,” Milica Djurdjevic, spokeswoman for Zavetnici (Oath Keepers), the right-wing Serbian party that organized Sunday’s protest, said.
“Kosovo has had a NATO base for years now. And despite their presence, Serbs were persecuted, some of our holiest and oldest monasteries were burnt, our houses were burnt and people were expelled from their homes.”
She also accused the alliance of breeding global problems instead of solving them.
“We are not only thinking that the NATO alliance does not curate stability, but that NATO is the cause for terrorism, the cause for migration, and all other global problems they cannot solve nowadays – unlike the Russian Federation, where problems are solved at their root.”
Pro-Russian political forces in Serbia have been gaining ground ahead of a general election to take place on April 24 that could decide which direction Serbia is heading – toward its Slavic ally Russia or the EU and NATO.
Supporters of a pro-Russian course for the country were holding up Russian and Serbian flags, as well as banners praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, while shouting slogans against Serbia siding with the West. They also waved anti-NATO banners, that read “Serbia is not a NATO colony” and “NATO, get out of Serbia.”
The crowds initially gathered at Republic Square and then marched to Radio Television of Serbia’s (RTS) headquarters, where the rally organizers entered the building to hand deliver footage of the protest. Activists accuse RTS of censorship and biased coverage, slamming the broadcaster for its lack of proper coverage of anti-NATO sentiment in Serbia.
Officials put the number of protesters at 6,000, while Zavetnici claims that up to 20,000 people were present.
Sunday’s march comes as the country marks the 17th anniversary of NATO’s intervention in Serbia, which was allegedly launched as a response to a crackdown on Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999. NATO bombed Serbian territory for 78 days, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths.
Sunday’s protest was the second such public demonstration just this week. A similar protest was held on March 24 – the same date the NATO bombing campaign began 17 years ago.