I recorded at a 1 od 5 miliona (1 in 5 million) protest in December 2018 in Belgrade. It started at 5 p.m. and finished around 8 p.m., taking place in darkness the whole time. I was part of a group of protesters from the New Left – a protest within a protest.
There is an ambiguity over who is the subject (the sounding voice or the listener). In our listening, we might also position the drum as listening subject without realizing it. As it breaks and joins, it becomes more and more apparent that the drum is a sounding voice as well, competing against the subjectivation of listening (and the objectivization of the sounding body). The rhythm pushes and pulls us. We move back and forth. The drum organically halts its riff and recedes into the background or emerges out of nothing with a riff. We hear the recordist sniff and some people talking close by, and we are brought back into a clearer awareness of our listening position and how our listening renders our own subjectivity and the objectivity of the listened-to. The drum guides the listening experience, leading us across listening distances. While at times this soundscape composition appears as a veritable picture of reality, at other moments the clips fragment and loop. The immersion breaks, and we are distanced. We suddenly start hearing not just what the protestors say, but how and where they say it. During the period of my research, protests were sweeping across Serbia. These “1 od 5 miliona” protests were staged in opposition to Aleksandar Vučić and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), with a focus on media freedom but, above all, on removing Vučić from power. They took place every Saturday evening from December 2018 until Spring 2020, with an attendance of around 10,000 people at their peak. These protests were presented as being supported by a coalition of 30 parties organized under the Alliance for Serbia (SZS) (Reuters 2019).
What I participated in was more or less a protest within the protest: a coalition of groups from the New Left who used the protests as a platform to challenge the neoliberal discourse and to introduce a broader ideological interpretation of the forces shaping the current political and cultural landscape of Serbia. In the (re)introduction of capitalism, Serbian landscapes and soundscapes are being recoded and reconstructed by neoliberal regimes, resulting in rising inequalities, poverty, and discrimination, all of which is facilitated by the privatization of public spaces and services (Hofman and Atanasovski 2017: 90-91).
The chant from the New Left draws from a current leftist direct-action movement focusing on the housing crises: ZdruženaAkcija Krov nad glavom (Roof Over Your Head United Action). They are positioned as a self-organized, participatory collective that reclaims housing as a basic right both through protests and especially through direct actions that are usually filmed live and broadcast on social media (Združena akcija Krov nad glavom 2021). The protestors barricade a home that is being delivered eviction notices and film the preparations and the interactions with the police or eviction executioner. It is not coincidental that the backdrop for these recordings is most usually the socialist modernist social housing projects. Before the transition, 53% of the housing in Belgrade was socially owned (Vilenica 2017). This housing is considered to still be of very high quality as it was generally meant for the elite workers, in contrast to much social housing in the West (Vilenica 2017). The current estimate is 1% social housing, and there is increasing pressure on this number due to bank-based evictions and gentrification from government-backed, internationally-funded megaprojects. In the current state of incomplete transition and debt-capitalism, many people in Serbia are forced to take out loans to pay for ever-increasing utility expenses, using their home as their only collateral (Vilenica 2017).
The actions and imaging of Zdruzena Akcija Krov nad glavomcritically restage the relationship between the current cultural imaginary and the architectural legacy of a prior socialist welfare state. This goes beyond a mere revisioning of the past: the direct actions require the staging of both past and future with the architectural imaginary of “modernity.” Now, in our neoliberal modernity, gentrification has become a significant force in Belgrade and has ignited outrage, beginning with the flash point of the destruction of Belville (a Roma settlement) to build facilities for the XXV Summer Universiade in 2009 (Vilenica 2017) and developing as a topic of conflict since. In projects both planned and underway, contemporary cultural iconography is “haunted by the future by what might be called ‘the unready’” (Degen and Hetherington 2001: 4). The architectural aesthetic of the current regime is exemplified by the project Belgrade Waterfront, a 3.5 billion Euro, state-backed project of international developers and architects. It is Vučić’s pet project that began in 2012 when he was mayor of Belgrade, and it has continued to play an important role in the cultural, political, and economic positioning of the current neoliberal authoritarian regime (Vilenica 2017). The new complex of glass towers, businesses, hotels, and a shopping mall present a vision of internationality and “westernness.” This has formed a flashpoint for new social movements, notably Ne da(vi)mo Beograd (We won’t let Belgrade d[r]own ), which was also present at the 1 od 5 miliona protests. They are a battle cry more than an ideology, having framed themselves as an outcry of ordinary citizens against the corrupt state and against the backdrop of the visual culture generated for the marketing of the Belgrade Waterfront project.