Protests Persist in Balkan States Fed Up With Veteran Leaders

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of protesters marched through the capitals of Serbia and Montenegro on Saturday as demonstrators kept up pressure on governments to curb corruption and allow more freedom in a region that hopes to integrate with the European Union.

In Montenegro’s capital Podgorica, several thousand people took part in a fourth weekend rally in a row over allegations of corrupt practices of President Milo Djukanovic, who has been the dominant politician in the smallest former Yugoslav republic for almost three decades. Meanwhile, in the biggest state of the former federation, more than 10,000 people took to the streets of Belgrade for a 13th protest against President Aleksandar Vucic and his administration.

“We will liberate this country from you,” opposition lawmaker Marinika Tepic said in her speech at the rally in Serbia. “We will defeat you, we won’t stop.”

Rallies against ruling parties have intensified across southeast Europe. In Albania, protesters have sought to oust Premier Edi Rama, also over perceived corruption, which has led to riots and tear-gas tinged clashes with the police. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, activists have protested in the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka, demanding a proper investigation into a high-profile murder case that is threatening to destabilize the government.

Long-Time Leaders

Djukanovic, who rejects the allegations of corruption, rose to power as a Communist and transitioned to the multi-party system in 1991. Since then he has served continuously as president or prime minister, except for a few brief breaks.

Vucic returned to power in Serbia seven years ago after serving under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Both Vucic and Djukanovic pledge to bring their countries into the EU sometime next decade. To do that, they’ve got to crack down on graft and improve the rule of law, and Serbia must mend ties with Kosovo, whose 2008 secession it vows never to accept.

Montenegrin protesters are demanding the resignation of Djukanovic and his handpicked prime minister, Dusko Markovic. They’re calling for the authorities to reduce the pro-government slant of state media as a condition for fair elections. Serb protesters are angry over what they say is cronyism in Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party and his influence over both state-owned and private media.

Most opposition parties in Serbia and in Montenegro boycott their parliaments, similarly saying that there’s little room for debate amid the dominance of the ruling coalitions. The EU has advised that all opposition groups return to the respective parliaments instead of boycotting sessions. Also on Saturday, journalists in Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, gathered in the capital Zagreb to protest against pressure on media.

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