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The Wagner Group at the Opposition Protest in Serbia

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Wagner Csoport, tüntetés / Wagner group at Serbian oppositions protest
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In Serbia’s opposition rallies and protests, suspicious figures, likely members of the Wagner Group in Serbia, have been responsible for provoking multiple incidents at the recent opposition protest in Belgrade. During Friday’s demonstration, they attacked a woman, than a girl and later targeted Savo Manojlović, the campaign director of the “Start-Change” (Kreni-Promeni) opposition movement, when he tried to intervene.

The glaring evidence

There are numerous glaring pieces of evidence in Serbia indicating a resurgence of politicization through rallies and mass gatherings, reminiscent of not-so-distant times. This provides fertile ground for various misled groups led by deranged ideologies, such as the People’s Guard, which has established strong ties with the Wagner Group.

The Russian (semi)military unit deliberately seeks to incite conflicts worldwide—most recently, its name came up in connection with Sudan. Similarly, something of the sort has “happened” in Serbia, where local members were involved in a demonstration near the Kosovo border a few months ago. More recently, they inflamed the extreme-right Belgrade protest in the Serbian Parliament, allegedly with the intention to assassinate Aleksandar Vučić.

The People’s Guard, pretending to be fierce opponents of the Serbian president, has even instigated actions against him in Russia, and naturally, they appeared at the quasi-opposition protest in Belgrade, organized by parliamentary groups opposing the government.

On Friday, the People’s Guard incited several incidents, with one of its members attacking a woman holding a sign that read “Stop Femicide” (referring to the alarming number of women killed by their husbands or partners in Serbia this year). Subsequently, they targeted a girl who was filming the incident.

Wagner Csoport, tüntetés

Members of the Serbian “branch” of the Wagner Group, on the left Ilija Vuksanović, on the right Damjan Knežević

In Serbian social media, multiple individuals have exposed a man named Ilija Vuksanović, whom a Belgrade lawyer claims was sent to the protest by President Vučić himself, with the intention of inciting incidents, something he has done before.

It is mere speculation whether the Serbian president gave this instruction, as the People’s Guard does not belong to the president’s background organizations (although such connections exist). In terms of ideology, they are closer to the extremist parliamentary party known as the Oath Keepers (Zavetnici). However, one can never be certain about the influence of the Serbian police on the group’s leader, Damjan Knežević, as he was taken into custody and presumably “reeducated” following the recent anti-government protest in Belgrade.

We mention Knežević because he was one of those who forcibly removed Vuksanović from the scene, which went unnoticed by the Serbian social media, just like the fact that several participants of the opposition protest were wearing the “logo” of the Wagner Group on their arms. Knežević can be seen in the striped sweater in the image on the right.

Serbian social media has also noted that Vuksanović indeed bears the symbol of the Russian private army on his right arm. However, the commentators stopped the video at an unfortunate moment, failing to notice that the man passing behind him also carries the same “decoration,” indicating membership in the same prestigious company.

Wagner Csoport, Wagner, tüntetés

 

Čedomir Stojković, a Belgrade lawyer and leader of the October group, who filed criminal charges in mid-January against Damjan Knežević, strongly associated with the Wagner Group, and several members of the People’s Guard, including incitement of national, racial, and religious hatred and intolerance among peoples and ethnic communities, has now posted a photo on Twitter showing Russian flags as well.

According to Stojković, the People’s Guard deliberately brought out three Russian flags to the protest for propaganda purposes, aiming to compromise the demonstration and create a false narrative that Russia is behind the protests.

The Belgrade lawyer believed that the members of the People’s Guard intended to prove that the protests had taken on a violent character by launching attacks against participants of the rally.

Following this, Stojković warned that it appears that the Serbian branch of the Wagner Group, in cooperation with the Serbian Progressive Party and the Russian embassy, is planning broader incidents for the upcoming opposition protest.

Why are we surprised?

All indications suggest that violence has seeped into the pores of Serbian society, as the events of the 1990s have resurfaced in public discourse. At the highest levels, the name of Slobodan Milošević, who bears the greatest responsibility for the wars three decades ago, is mentioned in a positive context. It has become almost impossible to unravel the relationships that Serbian opposition and government parties have built and maintained with the criminal underworld. Moreover, certain organizations openly flirt with the Wagner Group, and there is more than one of them.

In the meantime, or rather on a daily basis, members of the Serbian far-right, among others, verbally attack Kosovo. It is the current topic at hand, but if necessary, they would gladly do the same tomorrow regarding Bosnia, Croatia, or even Montenegro.

In the Serbian media, there is a clear government dominance, while government officials constantly attack the opposition media, which is also responsible for generating tensions. However, they allow these media outlets, which are essentially oriented towards incitement, to operate and even provide them with financial and moral support. These outlets are often associated with propagandists from the 1990s war era.

Given this situation, why are we surprised when a few guns go off? It’s rather miraculous that there aren’t more incidents, as tension flickers in everyday life and catches up with everyone, even those who try to avoid it. Serbian society is once again being socialized along the lines of violence, moving in the same direction as it did a few generations ago.

A BALK Hírlevele


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B.A. Balkanac

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