Saturday 25th June 2016 : 25,000 people, guided by the movement “Ne Davimo Beograd”, a name which plays with the words “do not down / do not drown Belgrade”, invaded the center of Belgrade. They protested against the project “Waterfront Belgrade”, a huge urbanistic project which want to completely change the city of Savamala, a district built in 1830 in the center of Belgrade, on the right side of the Sava river.
It is a futuristic plan born by the co-operation between the Serbian government and the “Eagle Hill”, a holding from the United Arab Emirates, which invested 3,5 billions of US Dollars to realise the project. The plan will cover 1,8 millions of square meters and will include the building of flats, commercial locals and the “Kula Beograd”, a tower which will become the tallest tower of the Balkan peninsula. The building workings for the “BW Residence” will be finished in two years, according to the company, and the price will go from 2,500 to 3,000 Euros per square meter. Considering these prices it is difficult to foresee that such a huge project could be an be of any interest for the Serbian middle class, as according to some data back to 2015, the average monthly salary is of about 350 Euros, the lowest one of the Balkan region.
The project “Waterfront Belgrade” divides the public opinion. On one side you find the progressive wing of the Sns (Serbian Progressive Party), guided by the Prime Minister Alexsander Vucic, which tries to emphasize the hypothetical advantages coming from this project as an electoral lever; on the other side you find the movement “Ne Davimo Beograde”, made by architects, city planning designers, artists and especially by activists and citizens without a political guide. Another side opposite to the realization of the project is represented by the Serbian nationalists, which do not want to give their land to foreign investors, but they did not get so much success.
The movement “Ne Davimo Beograde” whose symbol is a yellow duck, followed the birth of the project since the beginning and protested against its dark sides, among them the most disturbing ones are the demolitions made from 24 th to 25 th April 2016 during the political elections. On that night some men covered with balaclavas, after immobilizing and removing some people which were protesting against the demolition of the houses , demolished some buildings near the bus station beside the railway station with some heavy vehicles. Even if the police had been immediately informed about what was happening they only arrived on the following morning, after the demolitions. The movement suddenly invited the citizens to protest and to ask for the resignation of the mayor and of the chief of police. The citizens did not wait too much to react accordingly.
The same thing may happen to Ivan Timotijevic, a retired 67 years old mechanic, the last inhabitant of Savamala. When the building company presented to expropriate the territory near the station where Ivan lives, he discovered that his house did not belong to him, but to the railway station. The old man tells that “I have practically nothing now” and add “if I lose the dispute with the railway station I will find myself on the street”.
The project was highly criticized also by architects and city planning designers from Belgrade, who had presented some proposals of redevelopment of the area before the starting of the “Waterfront Belgrade” which were in conformity with the citizens’ needs and to be realised with limited budgets. Among them we find Ivan Kukina, architect and professor at the “Dessau Institute of Architecture”, which co-operated to prepare the projects to redevelop the district. After checking the project he says that “This is not an urbanistic project, because the situation of the global capitalism is using the urbanistic development and the building to maximize the profits”. He then adds that “ They use similar projects already realised 30 years before, such as the one in Dubai, as stereotype but they will never become places to live in”.
The debate on the “Belgrade Waterfront” is only one of the many debates linked to the wave ofprivatization which is happening in the Balkan area after Milosevic’s fall, such as, for instance, the transfer in 2013 of the 49% of the shares of JAT Airways, the air company of the Serbian government, to the Etihad Airways from the United Arab Emirates, or the purchase in 2008 from Fiat of the 67% of the Zastava, which is now planning a cutting of about 900 workers.
The subject of the privatizations continues to worry the public opinion as the actual government has proposed some changes to the law which regulates the sale of the agricultural lands; if such changes were approved it would become possible to transfer the lands to foreign investors, which is not allowed now. The clearance sale of lands and industries against the domestic economy is a clear sign of the passage from the socialist to the capitalistic age. This passage seems to have as a result the accession of Serbia to the European Union in 2020 provided some shortcomings, which do not respect the European norms, are put an end to.
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